Greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
By Jan Baumgartner
Would it surprise you to learn that this large, lanky shorebird is a member of the sandpiper family? Compared with other shorebirds, we know relatively little about the yellowlegs because its summer breeding grounds encompass the untamed boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, far from civilization. Yellowlegs were living off-the-grid before it was cool! Thankfully, it’s easier to observe this feathered nomad during its migration through the lower 48 states and in its wintering habitats near the Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic coasts. You may spot this long-legged wader as it elegantly strolls through fresh and brackish wetlands, marshes, and mudflats in Sarasota County.
The yellowlegs stands about 14 inches tall with a body size between that of a robin and a crow. A long, upturned bill thoroughly probes mud and sand for tasty aquatic invertebrates. As the yellowlegs wades into deeper water, its signature high-stepping gait raises each foot completely out of the water before nimbly touching bottom again. In sharp contrast with sandpiper cousins, the yellowlegs prefers solitary living to large gregarious groups — seeking out the protection of a colony only at nighttime.