Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes
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General Comments As the name implies, the Lesser Yellowlegs is very similar to the larger Greater Yellowlegs, and its distribution and abundance in North Carolina is not overly different from that latter species. However, the Lesser tends to be more sedate and quiet, occurs in somewhat larger flocks, and is less inclined to occur around salt or brackish waters than the Greater. Lessers are seen across the state in migration, and along and near the coast in winter. Like many other shorebirds, it favors freshwater pools and mudflats, where it usually outnumbers Greater Yellowlegs; it tends to avoid salt water pools and flats, and at brackish water is usually outnumbered by Greaters. (Note that the latest taxonomic sequencing of shorebirds by the American Ornithologists' Union contains the odd and shocking arrangement: Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs!).
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient and winter resident. Locally common (to at times very common or abundant) migrant along the coast and in the Tidewater zone; uncommon and local along the coast in winter, less so farther northward in midwinter (when may be rare in severe winters); winters sparingly in the Tidewater zone, mainly at Lake Mattamuskeet and Alligator River NWR. Farther inland, uncommon to locally fairly common in spring and fall, more numerous in fall than in spring; a few early winter records, but no records in Jan, thus completely leaves inland portions by late Dec. Mainly early Jul to late May along and near the coast, being very scarce in Jun; farther inland, mostly early Mar to late May, and mid-Jul to mid-Nov. Peak counts: 930, Lake Mattamuskeet, 25 Jul 2009; 850, Lake Mattamuskeet, 7 Sep 2008.
Piedmont Transient. Uncommon to locally fairly common in spring and fall, slightly more numerous in fall (when it can be briefly common), but often dependent on mudflats being present at lakes and ponds. Mostly early Mar to late May, and mid-Jul to mid-Oct, sparingly into Dec., but much less likely in late fall than the Greater Yellowlegs. Peak counts: 320, Jordan Lake (while lake was filling), 16 Apr 1980; 212, Falls Lake, 28 Sep 2002.
Mountains Transient. Rare to locally uncommon in spring; seemingly rare in most areas in fall. Definitely more numerous in spring than in fall, the reverse situation than farther downstate; nearly all records below 3,500 feet. Occurs mainly in Apr and May, and again from late Jul into Oct. Peak counts: 33, Hendersonville, 9 May 1984; 15, Cashiers, 15 Apr 1986.
Finding Tips The species is easily found at impoundments and other fresh water pools and flats near the coas at least in Apr and much of May, and again from late Jul through Oct.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-11], LeGrand[2014-01-05], LeGrand[2012-05-27]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.