Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Red Phalarope - Phalaropus fulicarius
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General Comments In breeding plumage, both sexes of the Red Phalarope are quite stunning, with the female a rich rufous color below. Like the Red-necked, this bird is normally seen in the state only well offshore, and it is much less likely than that species to be seen on land. However, this species winters regularly offshore, but as relatively few pelagic trips are taken off the East Coast in winter, exact/normal distribution of this and other pelagic species is not well known. Even so, as the species may occur in tight flocks of dozens, it is possibly, by number of individuals, one of the more frequent purely pelagic species in the winter season. It normally occurs in our waters later in fall, and earlier in spring, than does the Red-necked, and thus relatively few pelagic trips record both species.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S2N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient and winter resident, essentially offshore. Mostly uncommon in fall migration, but fairly common to at times common in spring migration, out of sight of land, in both cool and Gulf Stream waters; uncommon to fairly common (possibly more numerous) in winter, offshore, in at least cool waters (few winter trips go to the Gulf Stream because of fog). Onshore, very rare on the Outer Banks, and casual elsewhere (and nearly all in fall, but a few in winter). Perhaps unprecedented in Jun was one that remained at Cape Hatteras Point (Dare) from 8-28 Jun 2018. One at an impoundment at Pea Island NWR (Dare) was notable and early on 25-28 Aug 2023. Far inland records are: 1 (specimen), Rocky Mount, 17 Nov 1939; 1, Forest Lake (Cumberland), 15 Dec 1960; 1, Goldsboro, 30 Sep 1991; 3, Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson), 1 Sep 2006 (after Tropical Storm Ernesto); 2 at that reservoir, 6 Sep 2008 (after Hurricane Hanna); 1, Lake Waccamaw, 6 Sep 2008 (after Hurricane Hanna); and 1 at Roper (Washington), 17 Sep 2011. Normal offshore dates are mid-Sep to early May, rarely from early Aug to late May. One of the more amazing phenomena in NC ornithological history was a remarkable concentration of an estimated 10,000 birds seen inside of Beaufort Inlet and along the adjacent coastal waters of Bogue Banks from 3-5 Feb 1989! Other peak counts: 3,765, off Hatteras, 26 Jan 2002; 3,152, off Oregon Inlet, 28 Jan 2023; 1,100, off Oregon Inlet, 17 Apr 1978.
Piedmont Transient; the great majority of records in fall. Casual to very rare in fall, at reservoirs, with about 14 records, between 6 Sep and 18 Nov. Casual in winter, with only five known records: one at Falls Lake, 14-15 Dec 2008; one at Harris Lake (Wake), 2-3 Jan 2020; one in Jan (no day or year given in Pearson et al., 1959) at Lenoir (Caldwell); one photographed at Pee Dee NWR (Anson) on 18 Feb 2015 [Chat 79:97-98 link]; and one photographed at Jordan Lake (Chatham) from 15-19 Jan 2024. Accidental to casual in spring: 1 seen at Lake Crabtree (Wake), 29-30 Mar 2009; 1 photographed at a small pond along Wyatt Lane in Alamance on 13 Apr 2019; and 1 photographed on Lake Norman (Mecklenburg) on 5 Mar 2022. Most or all records were associated with hurricanes or other severe storms. Peak count: all reports are of single individuals.
Mountains Casual. Pearson et al. (1959) list reports from "Smoky Mountain Park" in Dec and at Fontana (Graham) in Oct, but no day or year was given for either report. Remains of 1 were found in a Peregrine Falcon nest in Linville Gorge in spring 1987 [Chat 52:67 link]; 1 was seen at Brevard, 10 Nov 2000 [Chat 65:77 link]; and 1 was photographed on Lake Julian (Buncombe), 24-25 Oct 2022 [Chat 87:10 link]. A photograph of the last individual is on the Carolina Bird Club Photo Gallery.
Finding Tips The only way to have a realistic chance of seeing a Red Phalarope is to take a winter or early spring pelagic trip -- mainly Jan into early May. Though peak counts are probably in Mar and Apr, few trips go offshore then, so it is best to try a mid- or late winter one, which are targeted more for alcids, Great Skuas, etc.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-11], LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-05-17]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.