Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Red-necked Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus
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General Comments The Red-necked Phalarope and the Red Phalarope are the two pelagic shorebirds, and to see both in the state, one must normally head to sea. Both breed in the Arctic tundra, and both winter mostly in waters (in both the Atlantic and the Pacific) south of North Carolina, including as far south as South America. As with the Wilson's Phalarope, the female is more colorful than the male in breeding plumage; in winter plumage, this species can be confused with the Red Phalarope, especially when seen from a rocking boat on a choppy ocean. Red-neckeds are normally seen in the state only in migration, typically well out of sight of land, both in colder waters and in the Gulf Stream. A few birds appear at ponds or lakes along the coast or inland, typically during and after a hurricane or tropical storm, or at times after strong thunderstorms.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4G5
Coastal Plain Transient, primarily offshore. Generally a fairly common offshore migrant in both spring and fall, but rare onshore on the Outer Banks, and very rare elsewhere along the coast. Casual or accidental in the Tidewater zone, but more records farther inland, where very rare in spring (six reports) and very rare in fall. Along the coast and offshore mostly early May to early Jun, and mid-Aug to mid-Oct, with a few scattered records between early Jun and mid-Aug. Three winter reports: 1 at Bodie Island (lighthouse pond) on 29 Dec 1987 [Chat 53:20-21 link]; 1 at Cape Hatteras on 5 Feb 1940 (Birds of North Carolina, 1942); and one photographed among a flock of Red Phalaropes offshore of Oregon Inlet (Dare) on 5 Feb 2023. Farther inland, records fall from 11-27 May, and late Aug to early Nov, plus 1 on 20 Jul. Peak counts: 2,125 in eastbound flight from Cape Hatteras Point (Dare), 24 May 2021; 486, in eastbound flight from this same locale, 6 May 2022; 250, off of Oregon Inlet, 20 Aug 1988; 211, off Oregon Inlet, 2 Sep 2000; inland peak -- 122, at Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson), 1 Sep 2006 (after Tropical Storm Ernesto). Notable inland were 47 phalaropes at Buckhorn Reservoir on 11 May 2015, after passage of Tropical Storm Ana; of these, 12 were close enough to identify as Red-necked, though it is likely that all were Red-neckeds as well. A group of 14 was seen at a turf farm in Washington on 6 Sep 2019, immediately following Hurricane Dorian.
Piedmont Transient. Very rare to rare, in both spring and fall, usually seen only during and after storms, and typically at the larger reservoirs. About 26 spring reports, from 28 Apr - 28 May only; in fall, mainly from early Sep to early Oct, with records from 11 Aug to 10 Nov, though most birds pass through in Sep. Peak counts: 41, Jordan Lake, 6-7 Sep 1996 (after Hurricane Fran); 35, Falls Lake, on the same dates; 16, Jordan Lake, 12 Sep 2017 (after Hurricane Irma); 12, Falls Lake, 6 Sep 1999 (after Hurricane Dennis); spring peaks -- 8, Lake Crabtree (Wake), 20 May 2020; 5, Meadow View Road (Orange), 19 May 2023; 4, Maple View Farm near Chapel Hill (Orange), 21 May 2021; 3, Lake Townsend (Guilford), 7 May 2013; 2-3, Winston-Salem, 19-23 May 1991.
Mountains Transient. Casual/very rare in spring; the only records are 1 in Linville (Avery) on 17-18 May 2009; 1 at Hooper Lane (Henderson) on 5 May 2013; 2 along Butler Bridge Road (Henderson) on 19 Apr 2019; 1 at the Mills River WTP (Transylvania) on 26 May 2020; and 1 at Lake Junaluska (Haywood) on the very early date of 26-27 Mar 2021. Very rare in fall, with ten records -- 1, Sherwood Forest (Transylvania), 9 Sep 1974; 2, Hooper Lane (Henderson), 9 Sep 2004 (after Tropical Storm Frances); 2, Mills River, 17 Sep 2004 (after Hurricane Ivan); 1, Asheville, 14 Sep 2008; 4, Hooper Lane, 3-6 Oct 2015; 1-2, Hooper Lane, 12-13 Sep 2017; 1, Haywood Road (Henderson), 13 Sep 2017; a remarkable 23 at Hooper Lane, 16 Sep 2018 (following the passage of Hurricane Florence); 1, Hooper Lane, 31 Oct - 1 Nov 2019; and 2, Grandfather Lake (Avery), 29 Aug 2020, following passage of Hurricane Laura. Peak count: 23, Hooper Lane, 16 Sep 2018.
Finding Tips Take a pelagic trip out of Hatteras or Oregon inlets -- either in the latter part of May, or in the latter part of Aug or the first half of Sep. Though it is not a scarce bird in migration, it can often be missed on a trip during the peak times because birds can be easily overlooked while sitting on a choppy sea. They are most readily found when seas are fairly calm and when and where areas of seaweed/sargassum are located, as the birds often feed at these weed lines.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-09], LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-11]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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