American Avocet: Long-legged shorebird with long, thin, upcurved bill and distinctive black-and-white back and sides. Head and neck are bright rust-brown during summer. Legs and feet are gray. Feeds on insects, crustaceans, and invertebrates. Strong direct flight with neck extended.
Range and Habitat
American Avocet: Breeds from interior Washington and British Columbia, east to Minnesota, and south to California and Texas. Winters on the west coast north to California, on the Gulf Coast, Florida, and the southern Atlantic coast. Preferred habitats include freshwater marshes and shallow, marshy lakes. Breeds locally in salt or brackish marshes; often moves to coasts in winter.
Avocets and Stilts (Recurvirostridae)
The taxonomic order CHARADRIIFORMES (pronounced kah-RAH-dree-ih-FOR-meez) is composed of nineteen families, including the oystercatchers, the stone curlews, the plovers, and the avocets and stilts.
The family Recurvirostridae (pronounced re-CURV-ih-ROS-truh-dee) can be found on all continents except for Antarctica and is composed of ten species of stilts and avocets in three genera.
There are three species of stilts and avocets in two genera that have occurred in North America. They are the Black-necked Stilt, the Black-winged Stilt, and the American Avocet.
The stilts and avocets are known for their slender appearance and distinctive bills. The American Avocet, in particular, is known for its unusual, upcurved bill.
Avocets and stilts are among the most slender and delicate looking birds. They are medium sized with long, very thin legs, and needle-like bills that are straight in the stilts, and upcurved in the avocets. They have rather long, thin necks, small heads, and long, pointed wings.
The plumages of avocets and stilts are mostly white with varying amounts of black on the upperparts. During the breeding season, the American Avocet also shows orangish coloration on the upper breast and neck. While the legs of the American Avocet are gray, those of the stilts are bright pink.
In North America, stilts and avocets occur in shallow freshwater marshes, along the shores of lakes, in estuarine habitats, salt evaporation ponds, and locally in saltwater marshes. The Black-necked Stilt is also found along streams in the southern part of its range. Aside from a population in Florida, this stilt and the American Avocet mostly occur in western North America. The third stilt species, the Black-winged, is an accidental vagrant from Eurasia.
North American members of this family are short distance migrants to coastal areas in the southern Unites States and Mexico.
Stilts and avocets often occur in small flocks outside of the breeding season. At all times of the year they forage by wading in shallow water, the stilts probing for insects, crustaceans and other small creatures in the mud and water, and the American Avocet searching for similar prey items by sweeping its bill from side to side.
Neither the American Avocet nor the Black-necked Stilt are threatened in North America, although drainage of wetlands could potentially affect both species.
Stilts and avocets are very vocal birds. The Black-necked Stilt is called, “perrito” or “little dog” in Latin America because its “yipping” calls sound like a small dog. Although the American Avocet isn’t named after its vocalizations, when a predator is sighted, it gives interesting calls that change in pitch to produce a doppler-like effect that may confuse the predator.