New England Seabirds
Phalaropes are Shorebirds related to Sandpipers, Dowitchers, Curlews, Godwits, Dowitchers, Snipes, Turnstones, and Woodcocks. Order Charadriformes Family Scolopacidae. Two of the three species: Red Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope spend most of the winter at sea and therefore meet our loose definition of what is a seabird. Furthermore unless you travel to the far north, your best chance of seeing these two Phalaropes is to take a fall or late August pelagic trip where they will be seen in small flocks resting on the water.
All Phalaropes are colorful birds in breeding plumages and finding a bird in migration which is already or still in breeding plumage is a thrill. I once saw two breeding plumage Red Phalaropes on Monomoy Island in July after a storm. Usually when we seen Red and Red-necked Phalaropes at sea they are dressed in their gray and white non-breeding plumage and the best way to distingush between the two is by the bill length.
A third species, Wilson's Phalarope breeds at Plum Island and is not usually seen at sea so it is not discussed here.
Phalaropes spin in tight circles while feeding. This behavior is quite easy to recognize at sea.
Breeds in the arctic and is present off shore during migration. Winters off the coast of southern United States.