Like other phalaropes, red-necked phalaropes are pelagic shorebirds—they spend most of their lives at sea. Unable to dive, these birds have developed a unique feeding method: they swim in tight circles at many revolutions per minute, which brings plankton to the surface of the water where they can grab it with their bills.
To distinguish red-necked phalaropes from red phalaropes, look for the red-necked phalarope’s darker winter plumage with heavily striped back, blacker crown and more contrasting wing stripe. Also look for the red-necked phalarope’s thin, straight needlelike bill.
Red-necked phalaropes usually lead solitary lives on their winter breeding grounds, but in the summer they collect in large flocks. This makes them especially vulnerable to oil spills. Because they feed on the surface of the water, they’re also exposed to pollutants discarded into the oceans.
With this bird, courtship roles are reversed—the larger, brighter females do the courting. In fact, a female has been seen engaging in aerial pursuit of a male, usually in the company of many females. The males always incubate the eggs and raise the chicks. Able to swim from birth, chicks leave the nest soon after hatching.
Sometimes the female mates with more than one male. Where food is abundant and a male is available, the female may produce two batches of eggs, thereby increasing the number of her offspring.