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the web of life in southern Africa

Phalaropus fulicaria (Red phalarope, Grey phalarope) 

Grysfraiingpoot [Afrikaans]; Rosse franjepoot [Dutch]; Phalarope à bec large [French]; Thorshühnchen [German]; Falaropo-de-bico-grosso [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Scolopacidae

Phalaropus fulicaria (Red phalarope, Grey phalarope)   

Red phalarope, California, USA. [photo Jeff Poklen ©]


Distribution and habitat

Breeds in the circumpolar region mostly above 65° North, heading south in the non-breeding season to the sea, especially in the Humboldt, Benguela and Guinea-Canary upwelling systems. It is a fairly common visitor to southern African waters, occurring off the west coast (especially near southern Namibia) and east up to the area off central Eastern Cape, while it is a vagrant inland. It generally prefers the open ocean, especially where oceanic fronts and upwelling plumes bring food to the surface, rarely moving to coastal salt works or standing water bodies further inland.

Distribution of Red phalarope in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

It first arrives in southern Africa in October, with numbers peaking in December before it departs in March, rarely April.


It mainly eats zooplankton, supplemented with a variety of other invertebrates taken opportunistically. It does most of its foraging by pecking and lunging on the surface of the sea or plucking prey from rafts of drifting seaweed. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • zooplankton
  • copepods
  • insects and their larvae
  • euphasid shrimps
  • crabs
  • barnacles
  • freshwater gastropods
  • parasites on whale skin


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.