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The Red-necked Phalarope is a small shorebird with a thin, needle-like bill. Both sexes have a dark head with a white spot above the eye, white throat, and a dark back with bold, buff-coloured streaking. The bright, chestnut-red stripe that extends down the sides of the neck from behind the ear is distinctive. Females have brighter and bolder colours overall and are slightly larger than males.

Weight: 29 to 44 g (1.0 to 1.6 oz). Length: 18 to 20 cm (7.1 to 7.9 in).

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 Red-necked Phalaropes can be found throughout much of the NWT during the breeding season, arriving in the territory from late-May to early-June. Red-necked Phalaropes spend most of the year at sea, coming inland during the breeding season and on migration. Like other phalaropes, they spend much of their life in oceanic environments, effectively making them amongst the world’s smallest “seabirds.” 

Range map information

The usual sex-roles found in most bird species are reversed in phalaropes. Females have brightly-coloured plumage and compete for males. Males are more camouflaged and are solely responsible for parental care of the eggs and young. Females lay a clutch of four eggs which is then incubated by the male for a period of 19-21 days.

Red-necked Phalaropes feed on plankton and aquatic invertebrates which they capture with their bills while swimming.  They can often be observed spinning in circles, which creates an upward current that draws prey items closer to the surface where they can be captured more easily.

Red-necked Phalaropes breed in low and sub-arctic tundra, or tundra-forest transition habitats. Their nest-sites are typically found in grass-sedge vegetation near freshwater wetlands, lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams.

Red-necked Phalaropes appear to have experienced significant declines at an important migratory staging area since the 1970s, but the overall population trend is unknown.  

Potential Threats in the Northwest Territories include breeding habitat degradation from threats like climate change and industrial development, and direct disturbance at nest sites from resource exploration and development.

COSEWIC assessed Red-necked Phalarope as Special Concern in 2014 because of population decline and threats. Red-necked Phalarope was listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2017.

Red-necked Phalaropes and their nests are protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

A national management plan for Red-necked Phalarope is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.

Dehcho Gwich'in Inuvialuit North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ Sahtú South Slave