Lesser Yellowlegs

Restoring Lesser Yellowlegs populations: A Road to Recovery Pilot Species Project

The Lesser Yellowlegs is a long-distance neotropical migrant with an annual range that spans the Western Hemisphere. The species has steeply declined during the past several decades and as a result it is considered highly imperiled in Canada where it was listed as threatened and is a bird of high conservation concern in the continental United States. This medium-sized shorebird, about the mass of a deck of cards, migrates from the boreal wetlands of Alaska and northern Canada to South America, undertaking an approximately 8,000-mile journey twice a year. By following their epic journey using tiny satellite transmitters, researchers have learned a great deal about where these birds stop to refuel and threats they encounter during migration. The Lesser Yellowlegs is likely the most widely hunted shorebird in the Atlantic Americas Flyway, and current harvest levels in South America are thought to be unsustainable. Additional threats include habitat loss, pesticide effects, and wetland drying caused by a changing climate.

Patamarilla Menor caminando y buscando alimento en el agua

Conservation Projects

With support from the Knobloch Family Foundation, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S. Department of Defense, efforts to recover Lesser Yellowlegs populations are gaining momentum. The Lesser Yellowlegs Restoration Team, comprised of ornithologists, social scientists, and conservation practitioners, was recently formed to evaluate and address threats that are likely to limit yellowlegs population growth. Members of this team serve on the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative Harvest Group, which has taken steps to finance hunter education programs and law enforcement patrols in Suriname, transition shooting swamps into no-shooting refugia in Barbados, and set daily bag limits in Martinique and Guadeloupe. To address key knowledge gaps about the health of breeding populations, a new graduate research project has started to quantify nesting success, breeding habitat, and adult survival in Churchill, Manitoba. An additional graduate project in the Prairie Potholes region of North America will determine the effects of agricultural pesticide use and habitat loss on migrating Lesser Yellowlegs. Preliminary surveys are underway in the Argentine Pampas to determine important wintering areas and habitats. With these efforts underway, the restoration team will continue working with partners across the species’ range to identify and address the complex cultural and economic factors that may contribute to declines, ultimately strengthening conservation and management of this species.

Lesser Yellowlegs Lightning Talk

Lightning talk by Katie Christie for the Lesser Yellowlegs Working Group 

Lesser Yellowlegs: A path to recovery

Patamarilla Menor posado sobre madera

Lesser Yellowlegs – photo by Katie Christie

A Year in the Life of a Lesser Yellowlegs

The story of endurance, perseverance, and defeat. Since 2018, ornithologists have worked to identify the cause(s) of the decline by tracking the annual movements of 115 adult Lesser Yellowlegs. The tracked birds originated from seven breeding populations dispersed across Alaska and Canada.

Pilot Species Working Groups

With generous support from the Knobloch Family Foundation, Road to Recovery is able to begin supporting the pilot projects focused on the recovery of four species, three of which are Tipping Point Species. The purpose of these projects is to provide a proof of concept for advancing both biological and social science targeted at identifying and addressing causes of species declines.