American Avocet: Seashore Saturday

Today’s bird of the week, the American Avocet, was a suggestion from one of my best friends, Maria. Maria took me on my very first birding trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR a few years ago and was the person who started teaching me how to id birds. She also suggesting the Northern Harrier and Great Yellowlegs, so I will probably write about them sometime soon. If you ever have any suggestions of birds you would like to learn about, please let me know in the comments.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

Description:

The graceful American Avocet is a large shorebird that is a member of the sandpiper family. Its plumage is white and features black stripes on its back. During breeding season, the plumage on the Avocet’s head and neck are rust-colored, while in the winter they are gray. The Avocet’s most distinctive feature is their long, upcurved bill, which makes them unique among shorebirds.

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A pair of breeding American Avocets (Image via houstonaudubon.org)

Range:

Breeding (summer): Western United States and southwestern Canada Winter: Southern Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, parts of Mexico Migration: throughout the Western United States. Year Round on the coast of California and Eastern Coast of Texas

Habitat:

Beaches, shallow lakes, and extensive mudflats. Avocets prefer wide open areas with very sparse vegetation. Birds that live inland prefer freshwater.

Food:

Feeds on mainly crustaceans and insects found in shallow waters. Avocets forage by submerging their upturned bills in the water and sweeping it through to finding food by touch. They also can plunge their heads into the water or visually find food in mudflats.

Breeding/Nesting:

Male Avocets court females by preening themselves with water. By the end of the display he works himself into a splashing frenzy before mounting a female. After mating, pairs will intertwine their necks and run straight ahead to develop their territory. They will perform rituals, such as standing in a circle in pairs and pointing their bills up towards each other.

Avocets nest in loose colonies that are sometimes mixed with Black-necked Stilts. Like many other shorebirds, the nest is not much more than a scrape in the ground lined with materials found nearby. Some Avocets build a small mound that can be around a foot tall. Between 3-5 eggs are incubated by both parents for 23-25 days. The pair switches off during the day while the female incubates at night. Once hatched, the young are precocial, so they leave the nest within 24 hours and can feed themselves. The parents will tend to them until their first flight, which usually occurs between 4-5 week after hatching.

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An Avocet chick (Image by Artur Morris/VIREO via aubudon.org)

Sounds:

a loud repeated kwhep!

Fun Facts:

  • While in their non-breeding winter plumage, American Avocets look very similar to Black-necked Stilts. Avocets have an upturned bill and pale legs, while Stilts have pink legs and straight bills.
  • The female Avocet’s bill is more strongly upturned than the males. Nobody knows why this is the case.
  • American Avocets can be aggressive while defending their territory. They have been known to physically attack birds such as Common Ravens and Northern Harriers. While approaching an intruder, they may outstretch their wings while walking forward as if on a tightrope. They can also use a series of descending pitches to simulate a Doppler effect, making it seem to the intruder that they are closer to attacking than they really are.
  • Female Avocets have been known to sometimes parasitize the nest of others. They may lay up to 4 eggs in another female’s nest to be incubated. Sometimes single Avocet eggs have been found in the nests of Mew Gulls. There have also been cases of Black-necked Stilts or Common Tern eggs being found in Avocet nests.
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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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