Phalaropes Spinning for Food

Phalaropes Spinning for Food
Red-necked Philarope

Many times we see animal behavior that seems impossible to explain. We see an interesting example of that in wading shorebirds called phalaropes. These birds can get food that is too deep in the water for them to reach.

Instead of the typical methods used by shorebirds to capture their food, phalaropes take a different approach. They spin around and around in one place at the breakneck speed of one complete rotation a second. They kick seven to eight times on each spin and move their heads to where they can quickly snap up food. Researchers have found that these birds can detect prey, thrust and seize with their bills, transport and swallow the prey, and do it all in half-a-second.

Using high-speed photography, researchers found that the phalarope creates a vortex that is over three feet deep. The vortex acts as a miniature tornado bringing food up to where the bird can reach it. You could understand how one bird might learn this skill, but it seems to be genetically implanted as baby birds do the spinning even when they have had no contact with adult birds.

We see in phalaropes, as in most animals, that God has given them a genetically-based technique for acquiring food so they can survive.

For a video of the process, click HERE.

— John N. Clayton © 2020