Role reversal

Red, or Grey, Phalaropes are one of the most colourful birds on Spitsbergen. Not only in their plumage but also in their breeding biology. In most birds with sexual dimorphism, the male is coloured brighter as the female. This makes sense, as it is the male that has to attract the female and therefore needs to have a plumage that attracts the female.

Male (right) and female Red Phalarope – 380mm, f/8.0, 1/200s, ISO400

In the phalarope family, these roles are reversed. Here the female is the one that has to attract a male, after which she lays the eggs and takes off again. The male has to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks and therefore has to be more camouflaged. The female, in the meantime, will try to find another partner and repeat the same thing again. Most likely she will stay with the last partner and help him raise the chicks, as the time is now limited in the short Arctic summer.

Copulating Red Phalaropes – 400mm, f/8.0, 1/320s, ISO400


Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.


  • Thanks for putting camera info on photos.
    Lovely birds to see, we only see them very rarely in our area in the UK, but nice to see in Spitsbergen.


    • You’re welcome, Michael. Thanks for the tip! And yes, they are very nice. We occasionally have them in the Netherlands as well, but then usually in their grey winter plumage.


Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s