Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus): management plan proposed 2022

Official title: Management Plan for the Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) in Canada proposed 2022

Species at Risk Act
Management Plan Series

Photo of Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Document information

Recommended citation:

Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2022. Management Plan for the Red‑necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment and Climate Change Canada, Ottawa. iv + 40 pp.

Official version

The official version of the recovery documents is the one published in PDF. All hyperlinks were valid as of date of publication.

Non-official version

The non-official version of the recovery documents is published in HTML format and all hyperlinks were valid as of date of publication.

For copies of the management plan, or for additional information on species at risk, including the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Status Reports, residence descriptions, action plans, and other related recovery documents, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public RegistryFootnote 1.

Cover illustration: Red-necked Phalarope by © Christian Marcotte

Également disponible en français sous le titre
« Plan de gestion du Phalarope à bec étroit (Phalaropus lobatus) au Canada [Proposition] »

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, 2022. All rights reserved.
Catalogue no.


The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996)Footnote 2 agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA), the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of management plans for listed species of Special Concern and are required to report on progress within five years after the publication of the final document on the SAR Public Registry.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Red-necked Phalarope and has prepared this management plan, as per section 65 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Department of National Defense, the provincial/territorial governments of Alberta, British Colombia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, and Yukon, Wildlife Management Boards, and Indigenous organizations as per section 66(1) of SARA.

Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada Agency, or any other jurisdiction alone. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the Red‑necked Phalarope and Canadian society as a whole.

Implementation of this management plan is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.


This document was prepared by Amelia Cox (Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service [ECCC-CWS] – National Capital Region).

Drafts were reviewed and helpful insight was provided by many people: Marc‑André Cyr, Christian Artuso, and Jennifer Provencher (ECCC-CWS—National Capital Region), Ann McKellar, (ECCC-CWS—Prairie Region), Julie Paquet (ECCC-CWS—Atlantic Region), Cherri Gratto-Trevor (ECCC, Science and Technology—Prairie and Northern Region), Heather Brekke and Sophie Foster (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada), John Neill (Utah Department of Natural Resources—Wildlife Resources), and Willow English (Carleton University).

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to David Johns (Alberta Environment and Parks), Excedera St. Louis (British Colombia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change), Duncan McColl and Julie Steciw (British Colombia Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations), Ann McKellar (ECCC-CWS-Prairie Region), Eric Gross (ECCC‑CWS—Pacific Region), GNWT-Lands, Kaytlin Cooper (Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board), Kanda Gnama (Gwich'in Tribal Council), Tim Poole (Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development), Danica Hogan (ECCC-CWS-Northern Region), Kyle Ritchie (Nunavut Wildlife Management Board), Yves Aubry, Michel Robert, and Véronique Connolly (ECCC-CWS-Québec Region), John Brett (ECCC-CWS-Ontario Region), Shelley Garland (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador), Aurélie Chagnon-Lafortune, Colleen Murchison, Leah de Forest, Matt Webb, Pete Sinkins, Alison Cassidy, and Jay Frandsen (PCA) and Angela Barakat, Thomas Calteau, Megan Stanley, and Gina Schalk (ECCC-CWS—Species at Risk Head Quarters) for providing comments during jurisdictional review.

Executive summary

The Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) is a medium-sized sandpiper from the family Scolopacidae. The Red-necked Phalarope is a circumpolar breeder and nests in northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia; in North America, it nests continuously along the coast from Alaska to Newfoundland and inland through the Yukon across northern Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec to the Labrador coast. The Red‑necked Phalarope migrates along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and through interior North America to primarily winter offshore in the Humboldt Current, off the coast of Ecuador, Peru, and Chile.

The Red-necked Phalarope was assessed as Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 2014 and was listed as such in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in 2019. Since 2004, the IUCN Red List has ranked the global population as Least Concern and NatureServe has ranked the species as G4—Apparently Secure globally since 2001. The Red-necked Phalarope is protected in Canada under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

There are an estimated 2.3 ± 0.7 million Red-necked Phalarope breeding in Canada based on the Arctic Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring. Based on limited data, the population is believed to be declining. The Atlantic Canada and International Shorebird Surveys indicate that the population is declining at 7.6% annually over at least a portion of the range. Surveys at the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, a major fall migratory stopover, indicate that the population declined dramatically in the early 1980s. There has been speculation that initial declines were caused by an intense El Niño event from 1982 to 1983, when unusually extreme climatic conditions reduced food availability on the wintering grounds. These initial declines may have left the population vulnerable as numbers appear to have continued to decline.

The exact cause of decline is unknown. Climate change is degrading the Red-necked Phalarope’s habitat and may be reducing both food availability and quality. Chronic and point-source oil pollution is a major threat to the species, particularly on the wintering grounds where the most North American nesting individuals concentrate. Plastic pollution is widespread in the ocean and contributes to reduced survival and poor health. Locally, some stopover lakes are drying up due to climate change-induced drought and/or poor water management and Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) are degrading breeding habitat in some areas. Mercury pollution is widespread but levels of contamination may be below harmful levels.

The management objective is to achieve a stable or increasing population trend, measured over a period of 10 years, by 2040. The broad strategies identified in this management plan aim to monitor the population size and trends, conserve habitat, engage the public, prevent contaminants from threatening the species, and conduct research into additional threats. Population monitoring is the top priority as new information may change the species’ conservation status.

1. COSEWIC* species assessment information

Date of assessment: November 2014

Common name (population): Red-necked Phalarope

Scientific name: Phalaropus lobatus

COSEWIC status: Special Concern

Reason for designation:

This bird has declined over the last 40 years in an important staging area; however, overall population trends during the last three generations are unknown. The species faces potential threats on its breeding grounds including habitat degradation associated with climate change. It is also susceptible to pollutants and oil exposure on migration and during the winter. This is because birds gather in large numbers on the ocean, especially where currents concentrate pollutants.

Canadian occurrence:

Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Pacific Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean

COSEWIC status history:

Designated Special Concern in November 2014.

* COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada)

2. Species status information

In Canada, the Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) was listed as Special ConcernFootnote 3 under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c. 29) in 2019 and assessed as Special Concern by COSEWIC in 2014. Provincially, the Red-necked Phalarope is a Blue List species in British Colombia and designated as Special Concern in Ontario. Additionally, the species has been identified as a priority species in 10 Bird Conservation RegionsFootnote 4.

Globally, the species is ranked as G4—Apparently Secure by NatureServe (reviewed in 2016; see Table 1 for additional sub-rankings). The IUCN Red List has categorized this species as Least Concern since 2004; it had previously been Lower Risk/Least Concern since its initial categorization in 1988 (Bird Life International 2018).

Table 1. Summary of national and provincial or state NatureServe ranks for the Red‑necked Phalarope where it occurs in North America. Source: NatureServe, 2020
Global (G) rank National (N) ranks Sub-national (S) ranks



N4N5B, N3N4N, N4N5M

Alberta (SU), British Columbia (S3S4B), Newfoundland (S3S4N), Labrador (S4B,S4M), Manitoba (S3S4B), New Brunswick (S3M), Northwest Territories (S3B), Nova Scotia (S2S3M), Nunavut (S3B,S3M), Ontario (S3S4B), Prince Edward Island (SNA), Quebec (S3B), Saskatchewan (S4B,S3M), Yukon Territory (S3B)


United States


Alabama (SNRM), Alaska (S4S5B), Arizona (S4S5M), Arkansas (SNA), California (SNRN), Colorado (SNA), Delaware (SNA), District of Columbia (S1N), Florida (SNRN), Georgia (SNRN), Idaho (S3M), Illinois (SNA), Indiana (SNA), Iowa (S1N), Kansas (SNA), Kentucky (SNA), Maine (S3S4N), Maryland (SNA), Massachusetts (S4N), Michigan (SNRN), Minnesota (SNRM), Missouri (SNA), Montana (SNA), Navajo Nation (S4M), Nebraska (SNRN), Nevada (S4M), New Hampshire (SNA), New Jersey (S4N), New Mexico (S4N), New York (SNRN), North Carolina (SNA), North Dakota (SNRM), Ohio (SNA), Oklahoma (S2N), Oregon (SNA), Pennsylvania (S4M), Rhode Island (SNA), South Carolina (SNRN), South Dakota (SNA), Texas (SNA), Utah (S3N), Vermont (SNA), Virginia (SNA), Washington (S4N), Wisconsin (SNA), Wyoming (S3N)

National (N) and Subnational (S) NatureServe alphanumerical ranking: 1 – Critically Imperiled, 2 – Imperiled, 3 – Vulnerable, 4 – Apparently Secure, 5 – Secure, NR – Unranked, NA – Not Applicable, SU – Under Review. Occurrence definitions: B – Breeding, M – Migrant. The N3N4B range indicates the range of uncertainty about the status of the species.

3. Species information

3.1. Species description

The Red-necked Phalarope is a medium-sized sandpiper from the family Scolopacidae that exhibits sex-role reversal, whereby the males provide all parental care and the females compete for mates. As is typical of birds with sex-role reversal, Red-necked Phalarope females are slightly larger than the males (~40 g compared to ~33 g) and have brighter plumage during the breeding season (Rubega et al. 2000). The species is named for the bright chestnut-red plumage that circles the base of the neck and extends up the sides of the face during the breeding season. During the breeding season, the head, back, wings, and tail are dark-gray or black, and there are golden chestnut fringes along the mantle (upper part of the back) and scapulars (shoulder feathers). The underwings are white, as is the chin, belly, and eyespot (or sometimes stripe). During the non-breeding season, adult males and females are nearly identical, with a white head and a black streak through and behind the eye. There is a dark patch on the crown. The neck and breast are white, with gray wings and mantle. Juvenile plumage is similar to the non-breeding plumage, though juveniles have buffy stripes along the back. The species has black legs and a long needle-like black bill.

3.2. Species population and distribution

Map. please read long description below

Figure 1. Breeding distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in the Americas. From Bateman et al. 2019.

Long description

Figure 1:This map shows the breeding distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in the Americas. The species breeds continuously along the coast of Alaska, across central Alaska, through the Yukon and into northeastern Manitoba, northern Ontario, the southern coast of the Hudson Bay, and across northern Quebec to the Labrador coast.


The Red-necked Phalarope is a circumpolar breeder found breeding in Canada, Greenland, Spitsbergen, Iceland, Faeroes, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Russia, and Alaska (COSEWIC 2014). In the Americas, the species breeds continuously along the coast of Alaska from the Copper River Delta to Battle Harbor in Labrador (Figure 1). Breeding does not extend north of the southern portion of Victoria Island and the southern portion of Baffin Island. Inland, they breed across Central Alaska through the Yukon and into northeastern Manitoba, northern Ontario, along the southern coast of the Hudson Bay, and across northern Quebec to the Labrador coast. See Appendix B for specific provincial breeding distributions based on the Breeding Bird Atlases and Appendix C for breeding distributions based on the Arctic Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring (PRISM). Recent updates through the Breeding Bird Atlases show that the distribution extends farther south into the boreal forest-tundra mosaic than previously thought.

The Red-necked Phalarope primarily migrates offshore, following either the Atlantic or Pacific coast, though a portion of the population migrates inland (Rubega et al. 2000). Birds migrate slowly, likely staging to feed along the way, either offshore, or, in the case of inland migrants, in saline lakes and other waterbodies (Smith et al. 2014; van Bemmelen et al. 2019). On the east coast, the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is a major fall stopover site where birds stay for 11 to 20 days (Mercier 1985; Hunnewell et al. 2016). Historically, most birds had staged in the Passamaquoddy Bay, in the outer Bay of Fundy, but currently most phalarope stage near Brier Island, also in the outer Bay of Fundy, near to the Nova Scotia Coast (Duncan 1995; Wong et al. 2018). Other notable stopover sites in Canada include Last Mountain Lake, Chaplin Lake, and the Quill Lakes, Saskatchewan, all of which host many thousands annually (Rubega et al. 2000).

Map. please read long description below

Figure 2. Wintering distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in the Americas. Adapted from Rubega et al. 2000.

Long description

Figure 2: This map shows the wintering distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in the Americas. The map shows the wintering distribution occurs off the coast of Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

The Red-necked Phalarope winters at sea, which has made it challenging to identify their exact wintering sites. Currently, the birds breeding in North America are thought to winter in the Humboldt Current off the coast of Ecuador, Peru, and Chile (Figure 2). There had been some skepticism over whether phalarope that migrate through the Atlantic were truly wintering in the Pacific or whether there was a previously unknown wintering site. However, recent geolocation work has shown that birds from western Europe, Greenland, and Iceland migrate along the Atlantic coast to winter in the Humboldt Current (Smith et al. 2014; van Bemmelen et al. 2019). Such a migration suggests that individuals breeding in North America and migrating along the Atlantic coast also winter in the Humboldt Current. It is also possible that some of the western breeding birds migrate with the Siberian population to Indonesia (Mu et al. 2018), but there is currently no evidence to suggest this. The Red-necked Phalarope also congregates in smaller numbers seen wintering off the Pacific coast of Central America, Mexico, and California (Rubega et al. 2000), though the geolocation data suggests that these birds may be wintering primarily in the Humboldt Current but spending time north of the Humboldt Current during the beginning and end of the wintering period (van Bemmelen et al. 2019).

Population size and trends

The Red-necked Phalarope is difficult to survey because the species spends eight months of the year at sea and breeds across a wide, remote expanse. As a consequence, the data on their population size and trends are limited.

The Arctic PRISM calculated new Canadian population estimates in 2020. Currently, it is estimated that there are 2.3 ± 0.7 million Red-necked Phalarope breeding in Canada (Paul Allen Smith and Jennie Rausch pers. comm.) and 1.5 (95% CI = 1.1-2) million breeding in Alaska (currently includes only the North Slope, Yukon Delta and Alaska Peninsula; Brad Andres pers. comm.). PRISM estimates are based on surveys on the breeding grounds. However, PRISM does not monitor the southern breeding range of Red-necked Phalarope in Canada so probably underestimates the population. Still, the updated PRISM estimates are considerably larger than previous estimates, likely because previous estimates relied on counts at staging areas during fall migration and underestimated the number of birds that did not migrate through key stopover sites (Morrison et al. 2006; Andres et al. 2012a; COSEWIC 2014).

Based on data from the Atlantic Canada Shorebird Survey and the International Shorebird Survey, from 1974 to 1998, the Red-necked Phalarope that migrate through the North Atlantic have not significantly declined, but those that migrate through the interior have declined by 7.6% per year (Bart et al. 2007). While the Atlantic Canada Shorebird Survey does include the Bay of Fundy, the surveys are conducted from shore and may miss birds if they are far offshore. Additionally, neither survey covers the entire Red-necked Phalarope range and observed declines may be due to changing migration routes or phenologyFootnote 5.

Though there is only limited data to assess trends over larger geographic areas, the Bay of Fundy migratory stopover has been surveyed extensively. The Red-necked Phalarope staging there have declined from two to three million in the 1970s and 1980s to 100,000-300,000 from 2008 to 2010 (Duncan 1995; Nisbet and Veit 2015; Hunnewell et al. 2016). Field surveys in the 1980s indicated that the population dropped off precipitously between 1985 and 1989 (Duncan 1995). Nisbet and Veit (2015) proposed that this dramatic decline happened in 1983, following the extremely intense 1982-1983 El Niño-Southern OscillationFootnote 6 (ENSO), and was exacerbated by the 1986-1987 ENSO. ENSO conditions may have severely reduced zooplankton populations on the wintering grounds, leaving phalarope with little food available. Small scale breeding population surveys indicated that there were short-term declines at breeding populations in La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba between 1982 and 1984, which may support the hypothesis (Reynolds 1987). However, it is possible that the Red-necked Phalarope are taking a different migratory route and no longer stop at the Bay of Fundy or that European breeding phalarope that migrate along the Atlantic coast are declining, contributing the apparent decline of Canadian nesting phalarope.

There are also localized accounts of declines on the breeding grounds. On Herschel Island, Yukon, during the 1990s, the once common Red-necked Phalarope disappeared; the species has not bred in the area since 1999 (Cooley et al. 2012). There are also local reports of declines on the North Slope and Crow Flats, Yukon (Cooley et al. 2012; COSEWIC 2014). In Churchill, Manitoba, and the immediate surroundings, the Red-necked Phalarope population declined from the 1930s to 1990s but have been stable since then (Jehl and Lin 2001; COSEWIC 2014). However, declines in Churchill and La Pérouse Bay appear to be locally restricted as densities are high in the surrounding breeding area (Artuso 2018).

3.3. Needs of the Red-necked Phalarope


The Red-necked Phalarope primarily breeds in the arctic tundra wetlands, where more than 43% of the landscape is covered in water (Andres et al. 2012b). Freshwater ponds serve as courtship grounds and provide food for the breeding pair and their offspring. The Red-necked Phalarope likely chooses to breed in particular ponds based on the presence of other phalarope (Walpole et al. 2008a). They are not territorial, but maintain a home range near open water, with graminoid vegetation, aquatic emergent plants, and minimal mud or shrubs (Rodrigues 1994; Walpole et al. 2008b). Preferred aquatic plants include Arctophila (a genus of aquatic grass) and water sedge (Carex aquatilis) (Andres et al. 2012b). The home range is usually on low center polygonal ground formed by the freeze/thaw permafrost cycle (Gratto-Trever 1996). Nests are located within the home range in places with more graminoid vegetation and near the water; the additional vegetative cover protects nests from visual predators (Walpole et al. 2008b).

The Red-necked Phalarope has also been documented breeding below the tree-line in the boreal forest in the southern portion of their range (Artuso 2018; Michel Robert pers. comm.). There the species nesting habitat includes fens, bogs, and other wetlands near open water sources. In Manitoba, the species nests near willow and other shrubs but avoids dense, tall shrubby areas (Artuso 2018). In Quebec, the species nests near open water in peatlands surrounded by graminoid vegetation (Michel Robert pers. comm.). Most information about the species’ breeding biology comes from observations on the arctic tundra.

Like other phalarope, the Red-necked Phalarope displays sex role reversal, meaning that the females compete for mates and the males care for the offspring, including incubating the eggs (Rubega et al. 2000). Females arrive first on the nesting grounds, followed by the males (Reynolds 1987; Sandercock 1997). Most birds arrive unpaired, although some may pair during migration (Hildén and Vuolanto 1972). Pair bonds form quickly, sometimes within four hours after courtship begins (Reynolds 1987). Once paired, males stay within 5 m of their female mate 75% of the time, mate guarding and copulating extensively (Whitfield 1990; Schamel et al. 2004a). These tactics result in very low rates of extra-pair paternity (i.e., 98.3% of eggs in the clutch are sired by the male who provides parental care; Schamel et al. 2004a).

Males build the nests, though females begin the nest site selection process (Rubega et al. 2000). The female typically lays four eggs, which the male incubates. Males provide all care for the chicks until about 18 days of age when the chicks become fully independent (Rubega et al. 2000). When a nest fails, males often renest, usually choosing to mate with their original female if she is still in the vicinity rather than a new female to reduce the risk of extra-pair paternity (Hildén and Vuolanto 1972; Schamel et al. 2004b). However, because females do not incubate or care for their brood, his mate may have already left the area in search of a second mate (either a previously unmated male or a different male whose first nest failed).

Predation is the main cause of nest failure, affecting between 30 and 60% of nests yearly (Sandercock 1997; Walpole 2008b; Weiser et al. 2018). Nest predation may be higher in years with low lemming populations because when predators lose their preferred food source (lemmings), they switch to predate eggs and nestlings. Such cycles have been observed in other arctic-breeding shorebirds including the Red Knot and Curlew Sandpiper (Blomqvist et al. 2002) but have not been documented in the Red-necked Phalarope.


Females leave on migration before the males, who stay behind to perform parental care; juveniles leave last (Rubega et al. 2000). The Red-necked Phalarope flies approximately 120-130 km per day during migration (van Bemmelen et al. 2019). The Red-necked Phalarope stops to forage and rest for an extended period (i.e., more than two days at a time) more often during the fall migration than the spring migration (van Bemmelen et al. 2019). Most of these migrating Red-necked Phalarope are pelagic (found on or over open water, usually the ocean) and stage regularly on continental shelf breaks and upwellings where the ocean currents move zooplankton prey to the surface (Mercier and Gaskin 1985; Brown and Gaskin 1988). A portion of the population migrates over land through western North America, with tens of thousands of birds sighted at inland lakes (Rubega et al. 2000). These inland migrants forage and rest in wetlands and waterbodies, both freshwater and saline (Page et al. 1999; Jehl 1986). They are an abundant migrant in Saskatchewan, especially in the spring (Gratto-Trever et al. 2001). Salt lakes, including Mono Lake and Great Salt Lake, California, and Chaplin Lake, Saskatchewan, have particularly high abundances and serve as staging areas (Jehl 1986; Beyersbergen and Duncan 2007; Frank and Conover 2019; A. McKellar pers. comm.). Phalarope staging in saline lakes primarily spend their time foraging for invertebrates in the saline water, but will access small freshwater ponds to drink and bathe (Jehl 1986).

On the east coast, the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is a major fall stopover site where birds stay for 11 to 22 days (Mercier 1985; Hunnewell et al. 2016; van Bemmelen et al. 2019). During this time, birds forage and replenish their fat stores at a rate of 1 g per day (Mercier 1985). New geolocation work has shown that phalarope migrating through the Quoddy region come from both North America and European breeding populations (Smith et al. 2014; van Bemmelen et al. 2019).


The population winters at sea. Wintering birds stay within the northern Humboldt Current throughout the winter, moving to the Pacific coast of Central America just before the spring migration starts (van Bemmelen et al. 2019). The Red-necked Phalarope almost exclusively forages on the mid-shelf front, which mixes the productive nearshore waters with deeper water and concentrates zooplankton prey (Haney 1985). During migration, along the Atlantic coast, they often forage near mats of Sargassum seaweed, where invertebrate prey congregates (Haney 1986; Moser and Lee 2012).


The Red-necked Phalarope primarily eats aquatic invertebrates, usually copepods, fly larvae, and other insects, though their diet is flexible and largely depends on what food is locally available (Rubega et al. 2000). While in ponds and wetlands on the breeding ground, the species feeds on primarily on chironomids (aquatic larval midges; Hildén and Vuolanto 1972). At the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, phalarope migrating over the open ocean actively forage on the nutrient-dense and highly abundant copepod, Calanus finmarchicus, which makes up the bulk of their diet (Mercier and Gaskin 1985). During inland migration, at Mono Lake, California, brine flies make up 90% of the diet (Jehl 1986). Though brine shrimp are readily available in this salt lake, brine shrimp are less nutritious than brine flies and the Red-necked Phalarope preferentially avoids them (Jehl 1986). If fed a diet of exclusively brine shrimp, the Red-necked Phalarope will steadily lose body mass until they die, even as they consume massive quantities of shrimp (Rubega and Inouye 1994). On migration off the coast of North Carolina, Red‑necked Phalarope that forage near Sargassum mats in the open ocean primarily eat Sargassum Shrimp (Latreutes fucorum) and a species of gastropod (Litiopa melanostoma) associated with the Sargassum mats (Moser and Lee 2012).

Phalarope have a number of unusual foraging methods. The Red-necked Phalarope pecks prey items out of the water, using surface tension to lift the prey in a water droplet up and into their beak, and then opening their beak slightly to release the leftover water (Rubega and Obst 1993). When there are no invertebrates on the water’s surface, the Red-necked Phalarope spins like a top to create an upwelling. This upwelling concentrates zooplankton prey to the surface from up to 50 cm below (Obst et al. 1996). Individual birds are “handed”, always spinning the same direction (Rubega et al. 2000). When foraging near Sargassum seaweed mats, birds peck prey items off the mat, without spinning (Moser and Lee 2012).

4. Threats

4.1. Threat assessment

The Red-necked Phalarope threat assessment is based on the IUCN-CMP (World Conservation Union–Conservation Measures Partnership) unified threats classification system. Threats are defined as the proximate activities or processes that have caused, are causing, or may cause in the future the destruction, degradation, and/or impairment of the entity being assessed (population, species, community, or ecosystem) in the area of interest (global, national, or subnational). Limiting factors are not considered during this assessment process. Historical threats, indirect or cumulative effects of the threats, or any other relevant information that would help understand the nature of the threats are presented in the Description of Threats section.

Table 2: Threat calculator assessment
Threat # Threat description Impacta Scopeb Severityc Timingd


Natural system modifications


Small (1-10%)


High (Continuing)


Dams and water management/use


Small (1-10%)


High (Continuing)


Invasive and problematic species, pathogens and genes


Small (1-10%)

Moderate (11-30%)

High (Continuing)


Problematic native plants and animals


Small (1-10%)

Moderate (11-30%)

High (Continuing)




Pervasive (71-100%)

Moderate (11-30%)

High (Continuing)


Industrial and military effluents


Restricted (11-30%)


High (Continuing)


Garbage and solid waste


Pervasive (71-100%)

Moderate (11-30%)

High (Continuing


Air-borne pollutants


Pervasive (71-100%)


High (Continuing)


Climate change


Pervasive (71-100%)

Moderate (11-30%)

High (Continuing)


Ecosystem Encroachment


Pervasive (71-100%)

Moderate (11-30%)

High (Continuing)


Changes in temperature regimes


Pervasive (71-100%)


High (Continuing)


Changes in precipitation and hydrological regimes


Restricted (11-30%)


High (Continuing)


Severe/extreme weather events




High (Continuing)

a Impact – The degree to which a species is observed, inferred, or suspected to be directly or indirectly threatened in the area of interest. The impact of each threat is based on Severity and Scope rating and considers only present and future threats. Threat impact reflects a reduction of a species population or decline/degradation of the area of an ecosystem. The median rate of population reduction or area decline for each combination of scope and severity corresponds to the following classes of threat impact: Very High (75% declines), High (40%), Medium (15%), and Low (3%). Unknown: used when impact cannot be determined (e.g., if values for either scope or severity are unknown); Not Calculated: impact not calculated as threat is outside the assessment timeframe (e.g., timing is insignificant/negligible or low as threat is only considered to be in the past); Negligible: when scope or severity is negligible; Not a Threat: when severity is scored as neutral or potential benefit.

b Scope – Proportion of the species that can reasonably be expected to be affected by the threat within 10 years. Usually measured as a proportion of the species’ population in the area of interest. (Pervasive = 71–100%; Large = 31–70%; Restricted = 11–30%; Small = 1–10%; Negligible < 1%).

c Severity – Within the scope, the level of damage to the species from the threat that can reasonably be expected to be affected by the threat within a 10-year or three-generation timeframe. Usually measured as the degree of reduction of the species’ population. (Extreme = 71–100%; Serious = 31–70%; Moderate = 11–30%; Slight = 1–10%; Negligible < 1%; Neutral or Potential Benefit ≥ 0%).

d Timing – High = continuing; Moderate = only in the future (could happen in the short term [< 10 years or 3 generations]) or now suspended (could come back in the short term); Low = only in the future (could happen in the long term) or now suspended (could come back in the long term); Insignificant/Negligible = only in the past and unlikely to return, or no direct effect but limiting.

4.2. Description of threats

The overall threat assessment score is medium. The exact causes of Red-necked Phalarope declines are unknown but declines are likely caused by a combination of climate change and pollution. Climate change is threatening habitat on the breeding ground and affecting food availability. Because they spend so much of their life at sea, oil and plastic pollution both affect the species. Other small-scale threats include low water levels at stopover lakes caused by drought or poor water management, mercury pollution, and habitat degradation by Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) on the breeding grounds. Threats likely to affect the species within the next 10 years are described below, from highest to lowest impact (Table 2).

11. Climate change (impact: medium)

11.1 Ecosystem encroachment (Impact: Medium)

As in the case of many tundra breeding birds, climate change will dramatically alter habitat availability for the Red-necked Phalarope. In North America, climatic niche modelling predicted that over 90% of their current breeding range will become unsuitable due to climate change by 2070 (Wauchope et al. 2017). Similar changes were predicted in Scandinavia (Virkkala et al. 2008). However, the species may be able to relocate somewhat, particularly given that the Red-necked Phalarope displays low natalFootnote 7 and moderate adult philopatryFootnote 8 (Colwell et al. 1988; Reynolds and Cooke 1988). The National Audubon Society ranks the Red-necked Phalarope as highly vulnerable to climate change and modelled that 3°C of warming would reduce their breeding range by 58% of their breeding habitat and would open up an additional 11% of northern breeding habitat (Bateman et al. 2019). These estimates are speculative and subject to wide margins of error.

In North America, climate change is dramatically altering Red-necked Phalarope breeding habitat. The arctic ponds where phalarope often feed are drying up because climate change has accelerated the natural formation and decay of thaw lakes. In Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, from 1948 to 2013, the number of ponds declined by 15% and the total pond area declined by 30%, mainly because ancient ponds, which are larger and more stable, are drying up (Anderson and Lougheed 2015). Increased evaporation in the summer, caused by warmer air temperatures will also dry these ponds (AMAP 2012). At the same time, there are some new ponds being created as the permafrost thaws which may provide additional habitat, at least in the short term (Morrison et al. 2019).

On land, thawing permafrost is also allowing shrubs and woody vegetation to expand across the tundra. As the Arctic warms, shrubby vegetation is growing, particularly in wet areas (Elmendorf et al. 2012). For the most part, dwarf shrubs are expanding into the coldest areas and taller shrubs are growing elsewhere; shrub growth is often accompanied by declines in mosses, lichens, and graminoids (Elmendorf et al. 2012). This is all troublesome for the Red-necked Phalarope which prefers to breed in short vegetation near ponds (Walpole et al. 2008b). Another shorebird species, the Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) was documented losing breeding sites in Churchill, Manitoba due to shrub encroachment in the subarctic (Ballantyne and Nol 2015). The impact of shifting and altering habitat on the Red-necked Phalarope population in the next ten years is medium but this threat is likely to be one of the main causes of the decline over a longer timeframe.

11.3 Changes in temperature regimes (Impact: Unknown)

The Red-necked Phalarope may be experiencing a phenological mismatchFootnote 9. Phalarope time their arrival to match the beginning of river ice break up, snow melt, and spring flooding (Ely et al. 2018) and begin breeding shortly thereafter when spring temperatures warm enough to melt the snow (Liebezeit et al. 2014; Saafeld and Lanctot 2017; Kwon et al. 2018). Although the Red-necked Phalarope appears to be able to delay or hasten breeding in response to local weather conditions, there is no indication that this species is consistently breeding earlier through time (Saafeld and Lanctot 2017; Ely et al. 2018 but see Liebezeit et al. 2014 for combined Red Phalarope [Phalaropus fulicarius] and Red-necked Phalarope), even though climate change is advancing spring snow melt (Saafeld and Lanctot 2017; Kwon et al. 2018) and spring temperatures are warming (Liebezeit et al. 2014). If the Red-necked Phalarope is not capable of advancing their nesting phenology to track changes in local weather conditions caused by climate change, the species may experience a phenological mismatch between when its invertebrate food source is most readily available and when its nestlings require abundant food (e.g., Tulp and Schekkerman 2008). Red-necked Phalarope nestling survival has declined since the 1990s, perhaps suggesting that this mismatch is occurring (Kwon et al. 2018).

Even the types of food available on the breeding ground may be shifting due to climate change. Climate change is thawing the permafrost that supplies the tundra ponds with additional nutrients, causing algal growth (Morrison et al. 2019). Likely as a result of these nutrient pulses and warming water temperatures, the zooplankton community in tundra lakes has shifted dramatically (Lougheed et al. 2011; Taylor et al. 2016). Predatory larval insects have come to dominate these communities (Lougheed et al. 2011; Taylor et al. 2016). The Red-necked Phalarope forages on a wide variety of invertebrates, but should warming temperatures shorten the length of the larval phase of their invertebrate prey (Lougheed et al. 2011), phenological mismatch may adversely affect the breeding population.

It has been theorized that the North American Red-necked Phalarope population initially crashed following an extreme El Niño year which reduced food availability on the wintering ground (Nisbet and Veit 2015). Under climate change, ENSO is expected to become more variable, with stronger extremes (Maher et al. 2018). More extreme ENSO fluctuations may hinder Red-necked Phalarope populations from recovering or reduce the population further.

Warming temperatures do not just affect the Red-necked Phalarope through food availability; on the breeding ground, warming temperature may be increasing nest predation. Nest predation is the main cause of reproductive failure in the Red-necked Phalarope (Sandercock 1997; Walpole 2008b; Weiser et al. 2018), so increasing predation rates would have profound impacts on the overall population. Globally, daily nest predation rates of shorebirds may have tripled in the Arctic, paralleling both increasing and increasingly variable ambient temperature (Kubelka et al. 2018). There has however been controversy over the statistical methodology and validity of these results (Bulla et al. 2019; Kubelka et al. 2019).

Climate change may increase shorebird nest predation through multiple mechanisms. Predation pressure on arctic shorebirds appears to be linked to lemming densities. Lemmings are a preferred food source in the tundra ecosystems where the Red-necked Phalarope nests, but have cyclic population dynamics. When lemmings are abundant, predators prey on them, but when lemmings are scarce, shorebird nestling survival decreases as predation rates increase (Blomqvist et al. 2002; McKinnon et al. 2014). Climate change is predicted to destabilize lemming population cycles and ultimately reduce lemming abundance during “boom” years (Gilg et al. 2009), potentially exposing shorebird nestlings to greater predation rates (Kubelka et al. 2018). However, reduced lemming abundance in “boom” years may reduce overall predator abundance for some species (Gilg et al. 2009); for example, Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus) population dynamics rely on high reproduction during “boom” years (Fuglei and Ims 2008).

Climate change may change overall predator dynamics. Warming temperatures in the Arctic have increased primary productivity (Gauthier et al. 2013) and may allow more small prey species to expand into the area, potentially supporting new predator species, or larger populations of existing predators (Fuglei and Ims 2008; Kubelka et al. 2018 but see Gauthier et al. 2013). The Arctic Fox, a predator of the Red-necked Phalarope (Liebezeit et al. 2014; English et al. 2017), may be outcompeted by the larger Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) whose range is also expanding due to climate change (Fuglei and Ims 2008). It is unclear how this will affect nesting shorebirds. Climate change may also affect predation rates by changing the habitat’s vegetation and reducing nest camouflage (Kubelka et al. 2018).

The combined impacts of changing temperature regimes across the full-annual cycle are unknown.

11.4 Changes in precipitation and hydrological regimes (Impact: Unknown)

Drought is primarily a concern for Red-necked Phalarope that migrate inland and stopover at saline lakes. When there is less water entering large saline lakes, salinity increases, which may kill the zooplankton and invertebrate prey the Red-necked Phalarope relies on (Rubega and Inouye 1994). For example, salinity in Lake Abert, Oregon increased and the shorebird populations disappeared in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl drought (Larson et al. 2016). The impact of drought on the Red-necked Phalarope is unknown. However, the impact is largely restricted to the inland saline lakes such as Mono Lake and Great Salt Lake in California and Chaplin Lake, Saskatchewan, where the Red-necked Phalarope stages during migration.

11.4 Severe/extreme weather events (Impact: unknown)

Climate change is expected to cause sea levels to rise by 0.9 to 1.6 m above the 1990 sea level by 2100 in the Arctic (AMAP 2012). As the permafrost thaws, rising sea levels will flood and erode some coastal areas that the Red-necked Phalarope breeds in. Additionally, storm surges and increased wave action are causing flooding inland and salinizing freshwater lakes near the coast (Jones et al. 2009). The impact of flooding on the population is unknown.

9. Pollution (Impact: medium)

9.2 Industrial and Military effluents (Impact: unknown)

Oil is toxic to most birds, but adults would have to ingest very large quantities to experience strong toxicity effects (Jenssen 1994). Instead, oil coats the feathers, sticking them together so that they are no longer water-repellant and insulating (Jenssen 1994). Birds may attempt to preen to clean the feathers, but that simply causes them to ingest the oil and spread it across any clean feathers remaining (Jenssen 1994). For a pelagic bird like the Red-necked Phalarope, being coated in oil and losing their insulation leaves them at risk of dying of hypothermia (Jenssen 1994). In fact, birds that live offshore are more commonly found washed up dead onshore covered in oil than nearshore birds, who can escape to shore to warm and dry themselves and are often found oiled but alive (Henkel et al. 2014). Because the Red‑necked Phalarope gathers in large numbers offshore at both the migratory stopovers and on the wintering grounds, a point-source oil spill could be disastrous should it happen when large numbers of birds are present. Both international and Canadian oil tanker traffic represent a risk to the Red-necked Phalarope along the migratory route. In Atlantic Canada, oil tanker traffic has increased in the Bay of Fundy as ships supply the oil refineries in Saint John, New Brunswick (J. Paquet pers. comm.).

Large-scale oil spills, even after extensive clean up, may still impact Red-necked Phalarope habitat use. After the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989, the Red-necked Phalarope population breeding along Kenai Peninsula, Alaska were less abundant in bays where there was more oil exposure. By 1991, two years later, the species was beginning to recover, but abundance was still depressed in bays that had been contaminated (Day et al. 1997a). These long-term effects were due to disruption of the shoreline and intertidal zone by the oil (and oil clean up), not by toxicity or direct impacts (Day et al. 1997a). In Prince William Sound, Alaska, Red-necked Phalarope density was equivalent in oiled habitat and unoiled habitat 2.5 years after the Exxon-Valdez spill (Day et al. 1997b).

It is not only large-scale oil spills that affect the Red-necked Phalarope. Oiled, dead Red-necked Phalarope are regularly found washed up on beaches in California, though, as migrants to the area, they are not one of the most common species that volunteers find oiled on the beach (Roletto et al. 2003; Henkel et al. 2014). Many of these birds were not exposed to a large scale oil spill but rather chronic oil pollution caused by small scale leaks and discharges which are usually unreported and do not trigger clean up procedures. Analysis of the British Columbia coastline suggests that chronic oil pollution is concentrated in two areas: the Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance in the north, and around the Scott Islands in the south (Fox et al. 2016). An estimated 41% of the Red-necked Phalarope migrating along the British Colombia coast will be exposed to high-risk oil contamination areas, mainly in the southern portion of the coast (Fox et al. 2016). The risk outside of British Colombia has not been quantified.

While most research into the effects of oil pollution has occurred on the migratory corridor, Red-necked Phalarope are also at risk of both chronic oil pollution and catastrophic oil spills on their wintering grounds in the Humboldt Current. Petroleum extraction is a key economic industry in the region, resulting in high oil tanker traffic (UNEP 2006). There have been multiple smaller scale oil spills in the region, predominantly concentrated around shipping ports such as those in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Lima, Peru, and Puerto Quintero, San Vincente, and Punta Arenas, Chile (UNEP 2006).

The overall impact of point source and chronic oil pollution on Red-necked Phalarope populations in Canada is unknown.

9.4 Garbage and solid waste (Medium)

Plastic pollution is a growing problem in the oceans and most phalarope have likely ingested plastic particles. Off the North Carolina coast, 59 of 92 Red-necked Phalarope (64%), collected live, had ingested plastic, mainly plastic fragments, line, strips, wads of fibres, and film (Moser and Lee 1992). Across seabird species, species like the Red‑necked Phalarope that forage at the surface on crustaceans were more likely to have eaten plastic particles (Moser and Lee 1992). For 53 Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) shot across three sites on the California coast, the stomachs of 34 contained plastic particles (64%; Briggs et al. 1984). In a sample of seven Red Phalarope that struck utility lines in California, six had ingested plastic particles (86%; Connors and Smith 1982).

Ingesting plastic particles likely harms the Red-necked Phalarope. For the Red Phalarope, individuals who ingest more plastic (volume) had fewer fat reserves, suggesting that ingesting plastic was detrimental (Connors and Smith 1982). Additionally, of nine dead Red Phalarope collected in British Columbia, all had plastic particles in their stomachs and were severely underweight (Drever et al. 2018). Autopsies indicated that most birds died of starvation and found stomach lesions and acute intestinal hemorrhaging, indicating that when starving birds ate plastic particles, the plastics damaged the digestive tract (Drever et al. 2018; Jennifer Provencher pers. comm.). The birds moved closer to shore to search for food because unusually warm ocean temperatures reduced zooplankton abundance offshore, likely exposing them to higher levels of plastic pollution (Drever et al. 2018).

Plastics may be of particular concern during the non-breeding season. Ocean currents concentrate zooplankton in the Humboldt Front, making feeding easy for wintering Red‑necked Phalarope. The same currents also concentrate plastics, leaving phalarope foraging amongst drifting garbage (Bourne and Clarke 1984). The overall impact of garbage and solid waste on Red-necked Phalarope populations is medium.

9.5 Air-borne pollutants (Impact: Unknown)

Though most industrial activities take place outside of the Red-necked Phalarope’s breeding grounds, there has been substantial mercury deposition into arctic and sub‑arctic waters since the 1960s (Muir et al. 2009). Thirteen Red-necked Phalarope individuals shot and collected in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick had very low muscle mercury concentration, likely because, by eating zooplankton, they avoid some of the bio-magnification of mercury faced by fish-eating birds (Braun et al. 1987). However, more recently, one individual from Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska had a blood mercury concentration above the threshold for reduced reproductive success in other species (1.21 ug g-1; Perkins et al. 2016). Additionally, one clutch of eggs tested for heavy metal contamination found that strontium concentrations were elevated, averaging 9.7 µg strontium per gram egg, which is above levels that hinder reproduction in other species (Saalfeld et al. 2016). Strontium may be transported long distances as aerosolized dust particles, ending up in the Arctic. The impact of air-borne pollutants on Red-necked Phalarope populations is unknown.

8. Invasive and problematic species, pathogens and genes (Impact: Low)

8.2 Problematic native plants and animals (Impact: Low)

There is some overlap between the Red-necked Phalarope breeding range and overabundant Snow Goose colonies, although most of the breeding range does not overlap. Agricultural changes have created abundant food for Snow Geese on their wintering grounds and allowed their populations to increase dramatically (Abraham et al. 2005). Greater Snow Geese have been designated as overabundant in Canada since 1998, Mid-continent Lesser Snow Geese since 1999, and Western Arctic Lesser Snow Geese since 2014. In response to this designation as overabundant, there are now spring conservation hunting seasons in many provinces and bag limits have been liberalized to encourage harvest of Snow Geese for population control.

When overabundant Snow Geese forage and grub the tundra soil, they leave behind patches of bare ground and less vegetation (Abraham et al. 2005; Peterson et al. 2013). Excessive Snow Goose grubbing alters soil characteristics and increases erosion, ultimately increasing salinity in freshwater ponds and altering composition and availability of invertebrate prey (Milakovic et al. 2001). Even once Snow Geese are removed from the landscape, changes to the vegetation may persist for years before recovery begins (Peterson et al. 2013).

The number of Red-necked Phalarope breeding in Cape Churchill, Manitoba declined following increased Snow Goose activity in the 1990s (Sammler et al. 2008). While there are no colonies located at Cape Churchill, the colony breeding in La Pérouse Bay walks their goslings over to Churchill Bay to grub in the vegetation (Cooch et al. 1993), likely reducing habitat quality for breeding Red-necked Phalarope (Sammler et al. 2008). La Pérouse Bay currently has lower densities of Red-necked Phalarope compared to the surrounding areas (Artuso 2018) but densities of Red-necked Phalarope declined in La Pérouse Bay in 1983, prior to the Snow Geese becoming abundant enough to impact habitat quality. This timeline suggests that the extreme 1982-1983 ENSO, not Snow Geese, may have caused the initial declines (Reynolds 1987; Nisbet and Veit 2015; C. Gratto-Trevor pers. comm.). However, habitat alteration by Snow Geese may have contributed to the continued depression of Red-necked Phalarope abundance.

Ultimately, the effect of problematic native species on Red-necked Phalarope populations is likely low because there is limited range overlap between breeding Red necked Phalarope and overabundant Snow Goose colonies. Habitat degradation by Snow Geese is most problematic on the west coasts of Hudson Bay and James Bay, Ontario, in the Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Nunavut, and across Southampton Island, Nunavut (COSEWIC 2014).

7. Natural system modifications (Impact: Unknown)

7.2 Dams and water management/use (Impact: Unknown)

Human water management is of concern to the Red-necked Phalarope during migration. Many birds migrate through arid regions and forage in heavily managed waterbodies. For instance, at Mono Lake, California, an inland saline lake, salt concentrations have risen as water was diverted for human use beginning in the 1940s. The Red-necked Phalarope’s prey of choice there, brine flies, is sensitive to rising salinity and in the 1990s there was concern that brine flies would disappear altogether, leaving the Red-necked Phalarope without a ready source of food (Rubega and Inouye 1994). Today, Mono Lake water levels are still below those ordered by state law. Other terminal lakes are experiencing similar challenges; in fact, phalarope staging at Lake Abert, Oregon may have declined due to recent salinity increases (Larson et al. 2016). Regardless, water management is a local issue with limited scope and, though the ultimate impact on the population is unknown, it is expected to be limited.

5. Management objective

The management objective for the Red-necked Phalarope is to have stable or increasing population trends by 2040.

Rationale for management objective

The management objective is to achieve stable or increasing trends in Red-necked Phalarope population abundance by 2040. This management objective recognizes that the Red-necked Phalarope population is likely large enough to maintain a breeding population (approximately 2.35 million in Canada), and that the Red-necked Phalarope has been listed as Special Concern due to declines at migratory stopovers in the past 40 years, not concern over current population sizes. Trends will be measured based on population monitoring at the migratory stopovers. A ten-year timeframe was selected for this species because breeding success and thus population size may be cyclic, in part because predators switch between preying on lemmings and shorebird nests, based on lemming population dynamics (Blomqvist et al. 2002). A longer timeframe will prevent possible cyclic population dynamics from influencing the trends. This management objective addresses the species’ decline which was the reason for its designation as Special Concern (COSEWIC 2014) and should be achievable by conserving habitat across the full annual cycle and managing the risk of oil spill contamination. However, if the population declines are due to or exacerbated by climate change related threats, this management objective may be difficult to achieve, even if the suite of conservation measures described below are implemented.

6. Broad strategies and conservation measures

6.1. Actions already completed or currently underway

6.2. Broad strategies

The broad strategies to achieve the management objectives for the Red-necked Phalarope are as follows:

6.3. Conservation measures

Table 3. Conservation measures and implementation schedule. Threat numbers correspond to the threat number in Table 2
Broad strategy Conservation measure Prioritye Threats or concerns addressed Timeline

Population monitoring

Centralize data from past site surveys in a shared database.




Population monitoring

Coordinate data collection from ongoing surveys at migratory stopovers and on the breeding range to enable comparison and calculation of North America wide estimates where possible.




Population monitoring

Track the North American migration routes and determine the turnover and residency times at migratory stopover sites.




Population monitoring

Calculate new population estimates and trends.




Public engagement

Engage and educate the public about the species and the threats it faces. Encourage the public to report sightings and promote participation in citizen-science programs (e.g., eBird, Beach Watch).




Habitat conservation

Conserve water and manage watersheds surrounding migratory stopover sites to maintain appropriate water levels in saline lakes.


Threats 7.2 and 11.2


Habitat conservation

Identify and conserve habitat on both breeding grounds and migration routes that models indicate is currently suitable habitat and will remain suitable as the effects of climate change progress (i.e., climate resilient habitat).


Threats 11.1, 11.2, 11.3, and 11.4


Habitat conservation

Work with international partners to support seabird conservation within the Humboldt Current Large Marine Ecosystem.


Threats 9.2 and 9.4


Contaminant prevention

Incorporate information about the Red-necked Phalarope’s migratory and wintering ranges into environmental assessments for any projects that increase the risk of either chronic or catastrophic oil spills in key areas for the species.


Threat 9.2


Contaminant prevention

Ensure that there are oil spill response plans in place, which consider offshore seabirds and habitat used by the Red-necked Phalarope.


Threat 9.2


Threat research

Determine where Red-necked Phalarope ingest most plastics and how much they are ingesting.


Threat 9.4


Threat research

Investigate changes in the abundance of zooplankton and other food sources at key migratory stopovers (e.g., Bay of Fundy) and wintering grounds.


Threat 11.3


e “Priority” reflects the degree to which the measure contributes directly to the conservation of the species or is an essential precursor to a measure that contributes to the conservation of the species. High priority measures are considered those most likely to have an immediate and/or direct influence on attaining the management objective for the species. Medium priority measures may have a less immediate or less direct influence on reaching the management objective, but are still important for the management of the population. Low priority conservation measures will likely have an indirect or gradual influence on reaching the management objective, but are considered important contributions to the knowledge base and/or public involvement and acceptance of the species.

6.4. Narrative to support conservation measures and implementation schedule

The conservation measures for the Red-necked Phalarope were developed to address threats facing this species across its range. The conservation measures focus on addressing the most pressing threats and gathering information necessary to address any remaining threats in the future.

To date, there is great uncertainty surrounding the exact size of the North American Red-necked Phalarope population. Without accurate, multi-year population estimates, it is difficult to say with any confidence how much the population has declined. It is possible (although unlikely) that the Red-necked Phalarope population has not in fact declined but that its distribution or migratory routes have shifted. To that end, the first priority must be to determine overall size and short-term population trends through population monitoring.

To calculate a more accurate population estimate, there are multiple components of monitoring the migratory Red-necked Phalarope population that should be improved. Because many sites have already conducted some monitoring, the Phalarope Working Group proposed managing a shared database to centralize all data from past and future surveys. Integrating this data with information from offshore seabird surveys like Seabirds at Sea and the Pelagic Seabird Survey Database may improve estimates of the offshore migrants. To facilitate calculating a new North American Red-necked Phalarope population estimate, surveys on migration at disparate sites should, whenever possible, be conducted concurrently and use similar protocols as proposed by the Phalarope Working Group. It may also be beneficial to conduct surveys at additional migratory stopovers to improve coverage. These estimates may be used as a cost effective way to measure population trends. To calculate a population estimate, managers will need to know the turnover and residency times at the migratory stopovers. Recent work using geolocations has provided some estimates for birds migrating along the Atlantic coast (Smith et al. 2014, van Bemmelan et al. 2019). However, given the low recapture rates of geo-tagged Red-necked Phalarope, tracking using Motus may be more feasible, particularly for the inland migrants. However, using Motus will require additional Motus antennae to fill in gaps in the Motus Network surrounding the inland migratory stopovers. The Phalarope Working Group has proposed building Motus towers at Mono Lake and Great Salt Lake, California. Finally, on the breeding ground, improving monitoring in under surveyed areas will allow for an undated distribution map and population estimates. A clear, accurate map of the overall distribution is necessary to rule out the possibility that migratory routes or distribution have shifted. Integrating monitoring data on the breeding grounds and migratory stopovers may be the most effective way to calculate reliable population estimates.

Climate change may ultimately have the largest impact on the Red-necked Phalarope’s population trajectory due in large part to changes on the Red-necked Phalarope’s arctic breeding grounds. Current projections estimate that the species will to lose 90% of its current breeding range by 2070 as the climate becomes unsuitable (Wauchope et al. 2017) and lose 42% of its breeding range with a 3°C temperature increase (Bateman et al. 2019). Following a 3°C increase, 11% of the breeding range may be gained as climatically suitable habitat shifts north (Bateman et al. 2019). It will be crucial to conserve habitat on both the breeding grounds and migration routes that climate change projection models indicate will remain suitable habitat into the future (i.e., climate resilient habitat).

If water levels drop excessively, saline lakes may become too salty to support the invertebrate prey the Red-necked Phalarope rely on during migration. Although watershed managers cannot prevent droughts, limiting the amount of water diverted for human use will maintain the lakes’ water levels and keep habitat in the saline lakes suitable for phalarope. Supporting water conservation and conservative water management in these watersheds will be crucial to preserving these important stopover sites.

Red-necked Phalarope commonly ingest plastic particles which appear to reduce body condition and overall health. Because the Red-necked Phalarope spends most of the year foraging on surface zooplankton offshore, it likely ingests more small plastic particles than other shorebirds. More research is needed to determine both how much plastic phalarope are ingesting, and where phalarope are ingesting most of the plastic (i.e., wintering, breeding, or migration grounds) before effective mitigation measures can be put into place.

More research is also needed to assess whether the Red-necked Phalarope still has adequate food available at migratory stopovers and on the wintering grounds. Climate change may be causing zooplankton blooms to happen at a different time or location, leaving the Red-necked Phalarope without a ready food source, but to date there is little evidence to suggest whether or not this is occurring.

Because the Red-necked Phalarope spends so much of their life at sea, both chronic and catastrophic oil spills pose a risk to the population. To mitigate this risk, the Red‑necked Phalarope’s migratory and wintering ranges should be incorporated into environmental assessments of projects that may increase this risk. Additionally, in areas where chronic or catastrophic oil spills are likely, there should be an oil spill response plan in place which considers offshore seabirds like this species.

Most Red-necked Phalarope nesting in Canada congregate in the Humboldt Current during the winter, which means that any threats to this region could be devastating to the population. Therefore, it will be important to encourage seabird conservation within the Humboldt Current Large Marine Ecosystem by working with international partners. In particular, Peru and Chile have both created large marine protected areas in this region. Conserving the population on the wintering grounds will require implementing an oil spill response plan, as an oil spill in the region at the wrong time would devastate the entire population and current oil spill planning is inadequate at best.

Finally, public engagement can be an important aspect of any management plan. The public can be engaged through education about the Red-necked Phalarope and the threats facing the species. Members of the public may report sightings of nesting or migrating Red-necked Phalarope through citizen science programs such as eBird. In coastal areas, the public may participate in citizen science beach watch programs and monitor for Red-necked Phalarope and other seabirds that wash ashore dead or oiled. These program help assess the effects of plastic and oil pollution.

7. Measuring progress

The performance indicators presented below provide a way to measure progress towards achieving the management objectives and monitoring the implementation of the management plan.

8. References

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AMAP. 2012. Arctic Climate Issues 2011: Changes in Arctic snow, water, ice, and permafrost. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. Oslo, Norway. xi + 98 pp.

Andersen, C.G., and V.L. Lougheed. 2015. Disappearing Arctic tundra ponds: Fine‑scale analysis of surface hydrology in drained thaw lake basins over a 65 year period (1948-2013). Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences 120: 466‑479.

Andres, B.A., P.A. Smith, R.I.G. Morrison, C.L. Gratto-Trevor, S.C. Brown, and C.A. Friis. 2012a. Population estimates of North American shorebirds 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178- 94.

Andres, B.A., J.A. Johnson, S.C. Brown, and R.B. Lanctot. 2012b. Shorebirds breed in unusually high densities in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, Alaska. Arctic 65: 411-420.

Artuso, C. 2018. Red-necked Phalarope in C. Artuso, A.R. Couturier, K.D. De Smet, R.F. Koes, D. Lepage, J. McCracken, R.D. Mooi, and P. Taylor (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Manitoba, 2010-2014, Bird Studies Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Bateman, B.L., L. Taylor, C. Wilsey, J. Wu, G.S. LeBaron, and G. Langham. 2019. Risk to North American birds from climate change related threats. bioRxiv: 798694.

Ballantyne, K., and E. Nol. 2015. Localized habitat change near Churchill, Manitoba and the decline of nesting Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus). Polar Biology 38: 529‑537.

Bart, J., S. Brown, B. Harrington, and R.I.G. Morrison. 2007. Survey trends of North American shorebirds: population declines or shifting distributions? Journal of Avian Biology 38:73-82.

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9. Appendix A: Effects on the environment and other species

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program ProposalsFootnote 11. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making and to evaluate whether the outcomes of a recovery planning document could affect any component of the environment or any of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’sFootnote 12 (FSDS) goals and targets.

Conservation planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that implementation of management plans may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the management plan itself, but are also summarized below in this statement.

Activities that benefit the Red-necked Phalarope are likely to benefit other phalarope, migratory shorebirds, and seabirds. The Red Phalarope and the Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) both use the same migratory stopovers as the Red-necked Phalarope, so conservation measures aimed at conserving water levels and researching food availability will likely benefit these species as well.

10. Appendix B: Breeding Bird Atlas maps for the Red-necked Phalarope

The Breeding Bird Atlases from British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec all provide detailed maps of the breeding distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope. There is only a single possible occurrence of breeding Red-necked Phalarope in the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas. The Alberta Breeding Bird Atlas notes that while the Red-necked Phalarope is known to breed in the northern part of the province in the boreal forest natural region, it is rare and all observations noted during Atlas 2 were migrant so this map has not been included.

In British Colombia, observations were primarily in the Tatshenshini Basin, in the northwestern corner of the province, with some confirmed breeding farther east, currently representing the southernmost breeding record in the province (Di Corrado 2015). In the province, the Red-necked Phalarope nests in wet, subalpine sedge and willow near small ponds, but there is still limited survey coverage of such habitat (Di Corrado 2015).

In Manitoba, the 2010-2014 Breeding Bird Atlas expanded the known breeding range of the Red-necked Phalarope, which now includes some records well south of the treeline (Artuso 2018). In Manitoba, the species is usually nestling in fens, peat bogs, and sedge meadows near small waterbodies. The species will nest near willow and shrubs, but seems to avoid areas with tall, dense shrubs (Artuso 2018).

In Ontario, the Red-necked Phalarope was observed in the northern most plots surveyed. Confirmed breeding is primarily in graminoid and sedge-dominated wetlands and at the edge of shallow ponds (Nol and Beveridge 2007).There was one confirmed observation in quaking peat mat in poorly-surveyed boreal forest-tundra mosaic, suggesting that greater survey effort may reveal a larger breeding range in Ontario (Nol and Beveridge 2007).

In Quebec, the second breeding bird atlas has extended the known breeding range from Northern Quebec to south of the border with Labrador . In Quebec, the species commonly nests in boreal and tundra environments where there are ponds and peatlands surrounded by graminoid vegetation (Michel Robert, pers. comm.).

Map. please read long description below

Figure B1: Red-necked Phalarope breeding distribution in British Colombia from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012 (Source: Di Corrado 2015)

Long description

Figure B1: This map shows the breeding distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in British Columbia between 2008 and 2012. It shows the possible, probable, confirmed, not surveyed and not observed locations of the species. The species is found primarily in the northwestern corner of the province and farther east within the province.

Map. please read long description below

Figure B2: Red-necked Phalarope breeding distribution in Manitoba from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Manitoba, 2010-2014 (Source: Artuso 2018)

Long description

Figure B2: This map shows the breeding distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in Manitoba between 2010 and 2014. It shows the possible, probable, confirmed, not surveyed and not observed locations of the species. The species is found primarily in the north and northeastern regions of the province.

Map. please read long description below

Figure B3: Red-necked Phalarope breeding distribution in Ontario from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. (Source: Nol and Beveridge 2007)

Long description

Figure B3: This map shows the breeding distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in Ontario between 2001 and 2005. It shows the possible, probable and confirmed locations of the species. The species is found primarily in the north and northeastern regions of the province. The map also shows several squares that represent adequate coverage, scattered throughout Ontario but found predominantly in the southern region of the province.

Map. please read long description below

Figure B4: Red-necked Phalarope breeding distribution in Quebec from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Quebec, 2010-2019 (Source:

Long description

Figure B4: This map shows the breeding distribution of the Red-necked Phalarope in Quebec between 2010 and 2019. It shows the possible, probable, confirmed, not surveyed and not observed locations of the species. The species is found throughout the north, northeastern and eastern regions of the province, primarily near the south of the border with Labrador.

11. Appendix C: Arctic PRISM distribution map for the Red‑necked Phalarope

Map. please read long description below

Figure C1: Proportion of 25 x 25 km blocks in which the species was recorded during the Arctic PRISM (Paul Allen Smith and Jennie Rausch, pers. comm.).

Long description

Figure C1: This map shows 25 km x 25 km blocks where the species was recorded in Nunavut based on the Arctic Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring. Higher proportions of the species are found in the western and southern regions of the province, and the lower proportions are scattered throughout the southwest of the province.

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