Where Have All the Phalaropes Gone?


Down East




64-69, 87


The little shorebird known as the red-necked phalarope used to appear on Passamaquoddy Bay in the millions during their mass migration in the fall, but they vanished in the 1980s. What happened to these millions of birds remains a mystery to this day. Sea birds that can't dive, they feed on plankton that are brought up from the deeps by the whirlpool of Old Sow in the Quoddy region. Chemistry professor and birder, Charles Duncan, took detailed notes while birding, and noticed the disappearance of the birds. He was instrumental in spreading the word. Since then, scientists have put forth theories, but none fully account for the scale of the disappearance. Climate change is possibly a factor, with wide-ranging disruptions to wildlife in the Gulf of Maine.

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