Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

Common Name: Lesser Yellowlegs

Scientific Name: (Tringa flavipes)
SizeDietRange in HawaiiStatus in Hawaii
9 in. - 11 in.aquatic insects, small crustaceans, and mollusksKaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Maui, and Big IslandLeast Concern

The Lesser Yellowlegs, also known as Tringa flavipes, is a medium-sized shorebird native to North America. While the species is not native to Hawaii, it is a regular migrant to the islands as a non-breeding visitor. With its unique appearance and distinctive behavior, the Lesser Yellowlegs is a fascinating bird species that has captured the attention of birdwatchers and avian enthusiasts around the world.

In this article, we will explore the world of the Lesser Yellowlegs, its unique characteristics, and its regular presence in Hawaii.

Lesser Yellowlegs


Lesser yellowlegs on a log
Lesser yellowlegs on a log | image by Wwcsig via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

The Lesser Yellowlegs is a striking shorebird known for its slender and elegant appearance. Standing at around 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28 centimeters) in height, it boasts a distinctive profile. With long, bright yellow legs that are hard to miss, this bird’s striking feature is its slender, needle-like bill that curves slightly upward.

Its plumage is adorned with a mottled pattern of white and gray, which extends down its neck and chest, creating an appealing contrast with its rich, dark back. During flight, its wings reveal a bold white stripe that adds to its allure.


The Lesser Yellowlegs is a culinary connoisseur of the shorebird world. With its long, slender bill and keen hunting skills, it’s a master of the marshes and mudflats. This bird’s diet is a delectable mix of aquatic insects, small crustaceans, and mollusks.


In these pristine yet remote locations, they construct their nests, carefully hidden among the vegetation. The female Lesser Yellowlegs takes on the role of the architect, fashioning a shallow depression in the ground lined with grasses, twigs, and leaves. It’s like creating a cozy nest on the forest floor.

Once the nest is complete, the female lays eggs, usually four in a clutch. These eggs are beautifully camouflaged, their colors and patterns blending seamlessly with the surrounding environment, making them difficult for predators to spot.

During the nesting period, both parents share the responsibilities of incubation and protecting the nest from potential threats. This careful attention to their offspring’s safety ensures that the next generation of Lesser Yellowlegs has a strong start in life.


Lesser yellowlegs landing on treetops
Lesser yellowlegs landing on treetops | image by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

During their breeding season, Lesser Yellowlegs engage in elaborate aerial displays, with males performing impressive flight songs to attract potential mates. These displays involve soaring high into the sky and producing melodious calls, creating a captivating spectacle in the wilderness.

While feeding, they move with an elegant and deliberate gait, carefully scanning for prey. Their keen eyesight and quick reflexes allow them to snatch insects, small crustaceans, and mollusks with remarkable precision.

In their migratory journeys, Lesser Yellowlegs cover impressive distances, traveling from their northern breeding grounds to wintering sites in the southern United States and South America. Their migration patterns are a testament to their tenacity and adaptability.

These charismatic shorebirds also exhibit strong territorial behavior, defending their feeding and nesting areas from intruders with vocal displays and, occasionally, aerial confrontations.

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Lesser yellowlegs foraging
Lesser yellowlegs foraging | image by Rhododendrites via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

The Lesser Yellowlegs are at home in diverse aquatic habitats. In the boreal forest, they nest in secluded wetlands. During migration, they explore mudflats, salt marshes, and ponds. These graceful shorebirds thrive in winter in coastal estuaries, making their habitat a dynamic and watery wonderland.


The Lesser Yellowlegs is a regular migrant to Hawaii, with most sightings during the fall. They come from breeding grounds in Alaska to western Quebec and winter in the southern United States through South America.

In Hawaii, they have been recorded in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, including Kure, Midway, Laysan, and French Frigate, as well as in the Southeastern Hawaiian Islands, such as Kaua’i, O’ahu, Moloka’i, Maui, and Hawai’i. These elegant shorebirds are typically seen in small groups, with occasional high counts at various locations.

Conservation Status

The Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) is assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At that time, it was categorized as a species of “Least Concern.” This classification indicates that the species was not considered to be facing a significant risk of extinction.

Interesting Facts

1. Distinctive flight call

Lesser Yellowlegs have a distinctive flight call that sounds like a clear “tu-tu-tu.” Birdwatchers often use this unique call to identify them in the field.

2. Breeding plumage

During the breeding season, their plumage becomes even more striking, with vibrant reddish-brown patches on their neck and a distinctive mottled appearance. This change in appearance is part of their courtship and mating rituals.

3. Mimicry

Lesser Yellowlegs are known to mimic the calls of other bird species. This behavior is believed to serve various purposes, including deterring predators and communicating with other shorebirds.

4. Interactions with other species

These shorebirds often share their habitats with a variety of other bird species, such as sandpipers, plovers, and gulls. These interactions can lead to interesting dynamics in the ecosystem.

5. Migration timing

Lesser Yellowlegs are known for their precise timing during migration. They often arrive at their breeding grounds in the northern boreal forests just as the snow and ice are melting, providing them with ample access to breeding sites and food.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do you distinguish Lesser Yellowlegs from Greater Yellowlegs?

One key distinction is their size: Lesser Yellowlegs are smaller. They also have shorter bills and a more delicate appearance compared to the Greater Yellowlegs.

2. What is the typical lifespan of a Lesser Yellowlegs in the wild?

While the lifespan of wild birds can vary, some Lesser Yellowlegs have been known to live for several years, with reports of individuals reaching ages of over a decade.

3. Are Lesser Yellowlegs commonly kept as pets or seen in captivity?

No, Lesser Yellowlegs are wild birds and are not commonly kept as pets or seen in captivity. They are primarily found in their natural habitats.

4. Are there any conservation initiatives dedicated to protecting Lesser Yellowlegs?

Yes, organizations such as the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) work to protect critical stopover sites and wintering habitats for Lesser Yellowlegs and other migratory shorebirds.

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5. Are Lesser Yellowlegs protected by conservation laws and agreements?

Yes, they are protected by various national and international conservation laws and agreements, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States, which regulates the hunting and protection of migratory birds.