Greater Yellowlegs at Eagle Bluffs

On yet another cool, cloudy, damp morning in central Missouri, I ventured down to the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area.  Shrouded by low, gray clouds and enveloped in a chilly mist, this floodplain refuge hosted an increasing number of migrant waterfowl, now dominated by blue-winged teal, northern shovelers and American coot.  Another flock of American white pelicans had stopped to rest and feed on their way to the Northern Plains, bald eagles were incubating their broods and eastern phoebes were hunting along the waterways.

This morning's highlight was a large number of greater yellowlegs.  Foraging in both the shallows of pools and in flooded fields, these large, attractive shorebirds were feasting on small fish and a host of invertebrates.  Having spent the winter along southern coasts of the U.S. and throughout Mexico, they are on their way to central latitudes of Canada and the southern rim of Alaska where they will nest in wooded bogs.

Among the earlier shorebirds to arrive in spring, greater yellowlegs are active feeders, chasing their prey through the shallows or swinging their long bills through the sediment to stir up worms, snails and larvae.  Their smaller cousins, the lesser yellowlegs, are far more abundant at Eagle Bluffs but arrive a bit later in the season, peaking in number by mid-late April.