Red-necked Phalarope


The Phalarope, like us, runs round on land
hunting for a living, and in marshes
snatches tidbits, swims and turns in whirlpools
round grasses, along the sand,
thigh-deep he wades, eager in the breeze
of early morning which sweeps away unease.

Then a curlew cries in the distant bay
to catch a dream before the break of day
remnants of a courtship unresolved
the awkward dance, his love fled in the cold.

Not so the Phalarope
the salty air strokes his well smoothed feathers,
returns to ruffle them like unwieldy weather,
awakening all the phantoms of the night –
but he has wings that glide like knives through strife
for what is that flash of red around his neck
but dammed-up memories of things he must forget?

while the curlew cries.

Lobed toes – only partially webbed, of the red-necked phalarope. Sketch: Anton Reichenow,1913.

The Red-necked phalarope (in French Phalarope a bec etroit) is a wading bird which hunts both on land and water. Apart from the red plumage on the neck, which is brighter in the females (the females hunt for their male partner), it has lobed toes: its feet are only partially webbed.  It breeds mostly in the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia; a few are said to breed in the Hebrides.  They are common in the summer in Alaska and Canada, and can also be seen on the East Coast of England in August and September, in France* on its autumnal migratory route towards Mauritania, South Africa, or the coast of Chile. It winters out at sea off central-western South America, in the Arabian Sea, and from central Indonesia to western Melanesia.


The Curlew is the largest European wading bird. source:



Comments: 3 replies added

  1. Marie-Jo October 14, 2016

    Hello The phalarope is nice, (I also like the becasseau variable of the same family). This makes me think of us : A day we are well, an other day, we are bad. Thanks Angela to show us the beautiful nature running round on land Mjo

  2. ajh October 21, 2016

    Hi Marie-Jo, the becasseau variable is indeed a runner on the sand - called a dunlin in English. These birds inspire us: your comment brings back memories of how the dunlins used to dash around on the sand looking for worms on the East Coast of England when I was little while the curlews amongst them seemed more 'stately' and in less of a rush to find food; curlews seem to be in another world. Each bird has its character, fascinating to compare their behaviour. LIke us they all have their personalities and they all live together sharing the same land - a lesson in cultural identity and integration!

  3. P. Sandhu November 3, 2016

    Hi Angela, The Phalarope's lobed feet remind me of the coot's feet. The design of the lobate toes looks identical, an example of parallel evolution. It is quite a juxtaposition of birds with similar foot design, but dis-similar bodies and food habits. I had never registered the Phalarope's feet before. The bird definitely has wings that glide like knives through strife and weather , a fine poem. Prit

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