Archived 2014 discussion: Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes): request for information

This discussion was first published on Nov 30 2010 as part of the 2010-2011 Red List update, but remains open for comment to enable reassessment in 2014.

Link to BirdLife species factsheet for Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes is listed as Least Concern on the basis that it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria. This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence less than 20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be negative, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (fewer than 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be at least 10% over ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure).

In recent years, evidence of declines in the population of T. flavipes has raised concerns over the species’s status. Data from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) suggest that it has undergone a large and statistically significant decrease in North America over the last 40 years (-94.9% decline over 40 years, equating to a -52.6% decline per decade; Butcher and Niven 2007); however, these surveys cover less than 50% of the species’s range in North America. Nevertheless, the decline suggested by the BBS data prompted the US Fish and Wildlife Service to add the species to the Birds of Conservation Concern 2008 report (B. Andres in litt. 2009, B. Andres per A. Lesterhuis in litt. 2009).

Following reported declines in the wintering population of T. flavipes in Suriname since the 1970s, surveys were carried out at one site in 2008-2009 using the methods of a previous survey at the same location (Ottema and Ramcharan 2009). The results showed that numbers of T. flavipes were down by c.80% on those recorded in 2002-2003. This change is assumed by Ottema and Ramcharan (2009) to be representative of the entire coast of Suriname, based on an aerial survey of the coast in December 2008, additional ground-based observations and four surveys at another location. Ottema and Ramcharan (2009) suggest that the global population may have declined by c.75% from 2002-2003 to 2008-2009, and that the species may face extinction within 20-30 years, citing Morrison and Ross’s (1989) observations from the mid-1980s that more than 70% of T. flavipes and Greater Yellowlegs T. melanoleuca wintering on the South American coast do so in Suriname. However, the non-breeding population may be shifting its geographical preferences, either along the coast of north-eastern South America or more widely; a possibility that cannot be eliminated owing to the limited scope of the fieldwork carried out in 2008-2009.

The uncertainties surrounding existing population data for T. flavipes seriously hinder attempts to estimate the global population trend. The species would be eligible for uplisting to Near Threatened under the A criterion if it was shown that it had undergone a decline approaching 30% over 17 years (estimate of three generations), and eligible for at least Vulnerable if the decline was estimated to be greater than 30%. Up-to-date information is requested on this species’s population trend and the severity of potential threats.

Butcher, G. S. and Niven, D. K. (2007) Combining Data from the Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey to Determine the Continental Status and Trends of North America Birds. Ivyland, PA: National Audubon Society.

Morrison, R. I. G. and Ross, R. K. (1989) Atlas of Nearctic shorebirds on the coast of South America. Two volumes. Canadian Wildlife Service Special Publication. Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Wildlife Service.

Ottema, O. H. and Ramcharan, S. (2009) Dramatic decline of Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes in Suriname. Wader Study Group Bull.: 116:  87-88.

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14 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes): request for information

  1. Adam Brown says:

    We have been conducting wetland surveys on the Lesser Antillean island of St. Martin each winter since 2000-2001. Our numbers of overwintering Lesser Yellowlegs has declined over that period. In January 2001, we counted 348 overwintreing birds, and over the last five years we have observed <5 birds each year. While not huge numbers overall, perhaps it mirrors what is happening at the regional level.

  2. This is a difficult species because of the lack of information, as pointed out in the account. We listed it as a “Bird of Conservation Concern” because of the possible strong negative trend, declines in Suriname, and reports of take around the Caribbean Basin. Certainly a species to watch, but I am not sure it warrants listing as near-threatened or vulnerable at this time but perhaps data defficient.

  3. I conducting wetland surveys near to Bogota. Our numbers of Lesser Yellowlegs has declined around wetland from Bogota It is estimated that at the beginning of the 20th Century that there were 50,000 hectares of Bogotá wetlands. Today only 800 hectares of wetlands remain.

  4. The Lesser Yellowlegs is the most hunted shorebird species in the French West Indies (Guadeloupe & Martinique). Each year several thousands of them are shot in wetlands. No idea of the exact number but we will work on this in 2012.

  5. We agree that Lesser Yellowlegs could be considered least concern and that it wouldn’t reach the criteria for vulnerable, but, there were a couple points that we have comments on:
    First, the BBS covers far less than 50% of the species range (maybe 10-15%) and we question whether it’s at all useful other than to provide a little bit of information from the southern boundary and a few patches further north. These patterns could easily differ from the overall population.
    Second, we were surprised to read the forecast of possible extinction of the species in 20-30 years based on the winter surveys in Suriname. We are not familiar with this study or the proportion of the global population wintering in Suriname but without information from other portions of the winter range to assess a change in distribution as well as the trajectories of populations in different regions, we don’t see how such a statement can be made. Lesser Yellowlegs are definitely a data deficient species on both breeding and wintering grounds.

  6. Andy Symes says:

    The Conservation Plan for the Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) has been published by WHSRN and the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

    It is viewable here:

    A Spanish executive summary can be found here:

  7. Brad Andres says:

    A recent analysis of migration count data by Paul Smith and his colleagues suggests that the Lesser Yellowlegs has not shown a rebound in the last decade that was typical of several other North Ameircan species. As more information on harvest from passage and wintering grounds emerges, it appears, especially if considered across all areas where yellowlegs are taken, that harvest may not be sustainble in some years. More work is needed to determine if Lesser Yellowlegs should be elevated to near-threatened.

  8. Carlos Ruiz says:

    According to the aerial surveys of Calidris Association during January 2008 along Caribbean coast of Colombia (available in, 204 individuals of LEYE. Morrison & Ross (1989) counted 20 individuals in the same coast. In addition, in one site of this coast, Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta Ecorregion, we counted 80 individuals of Lesser Yellowlegs in March 2012 and 75 individuals in October 2011, it is that, population trend of this shorebird in Colombia is lacking but wetlands lost in Andes region could be the main driver of the population declination in this country. Ricefields of Cauca river valley (Waterbirds Neotropical Census data) harbor the greatest abundance of this species in Colombia mainland: more than 200 individuals. Several decades ago, It is possible that LEYE was more abundant and common in wetlands of the interandean valleys where Cane sugar cultivation has destroyed habitats for water birds.

  9. Ted Cheskey says:

    I agree with G. Donaldson’s statement. A data deficient species

  10. Brad Andres says:

    I believe I will stick with my comments made earlier — there are some strong signals of decline in the Western Atlantic Flyway but perhaps not at the magnitude to warrant a listing of near-threatened. We are gathering information on the harvest of lesser yellowlegs in the Caribbean and northern South America to determine if it will have a population-level effect (to the best of our ability).

  11. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List would be to close this discussion and retain Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes as Least Concern.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  12. Fernando Angulo says:

    In 2010, CORBIDI & Cornell Lab of Ornithology conducted a shorebirds survey on the whole peruvian coast. Our estimates for Tringa flavipes are of 15330 individual in the peruvian coast (Senner, N. R. & F. Angulo Pratolongo (2014). Atlas de las aves playeras del Perú. Sitios importantes para su conservación. CORBIDI. Lima, Perú. 293 Pp.).
    This year we have expanded our surveys to Chilean coast (in association with ROC) and soon we will have new estimates and a trend in the population of shorebirds. So far, the species seems to be not scarce and there is no signs of severe decline, at least in the peruvian coast. So, I support the idea that the species could be considered least concern.

  13. David Mizrahi says:

    Since 2008, we have been conducting aerial surveys for shorebirds along the northern coast of South America, primarily Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil. Surveys were conducted with Guy Morrison and Ken Ross, the two Canadian Wildlife Service biologists who produced the shorebird atlas for South America in the 1980s. During their 1980s surveys, Morrison and Ross estimated approximately 73,000 yellowlegs wintered in our region of interest. Based on the revised population estimate of 660,000 (Andres et al. 2012), this represents 11 % of the world population. More than 92% of these were observed in Suriname with another 7% enumerated in French Guiana. Based on ground surveys conducted by Otte Otema and others in Suriname during the 1990s, most of the yellowlegs occurring in this northeast region of South America appear to be lesser yellowlegs.

    Our current estimate of yellowlegs occurring along the northeast coast of South America is approximately 8,000, or an overall decline of nearly 90%. This estimate has been consistent across the multiple aerial surveys we have conducted (Suriname: 2008, 2011, 2014; French Guiana: 2008, 2014; Brasil: 2011, 2014). Populations in Suriname appear to have experienced the most dramatic change, with declines exceeding 96%, while populations in French Guiana (~5,000-6,000 individuals) generally appear stable.

    Whether the declines we have documented in Suriname are indicative of population change across the entire winter range of the species is unclear. As Brad Andres suggested in his comments, hunting pressure in the Caribbean basin and along the northeastern coast of South America could be responsible for part of the decline we have documented. Historically, lesser yellowlegs was a target for hunters in Suriname and the Caribbean basin. How widespread a threat this represents is unclear.

    Given the current data available, I believe that a change in status to “near threatened” is probably warranted, although I can understand the argument that we lack sufficient data to understand the observed declines in their full context. However, if the status of lesser yellowlegs remains “least concern”, then it is incumbent on the shorebird conservation community to develop the data necessary to generate a determination that we are confident reflects the status of the species.

  14. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there has been no change to our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List status of this species.

    The final categorisation will be published later in 2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

Comments are closed.