American Avocet (Recurviostra emericana)

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This page last updated on 03/08/2017

(Fig. 01)

Picture Notes: These pictures were taken on 03/16/2017 at the Henderson Bird Preserve. There was a flock with more than a half dozen feeding in one of the preserve's shallow ponds (Fig. 01).

(Fig. 02)
Description: American Avocet (Recurviostra emericana) The American Avocet is unique among North American birds. The avocet has long, thin, blue-gray legs, giving it its colloquial name, blue shanks (Fig. 02). The plumage is black and white on the back with white on the underbelly. The neck and head are cinnamon colored in the summer and gray in the winter. The long, thin bill is upturned at the end. The adult bird measures 16–20 inches in length, 27–30 inches in wingspan and 9.7–14.8 oz in weight.

In summer it can be found in temporary and unpredictable wetlands across western North America where it swings its long upturned bill through the shallow water to catch small invertebrates. Around lake shores and tidal flats, especially in the wide-open spaces, flocks of elegant American Avocets wade in the shallows (Figs. 03 & 04). They often feed while leaning forward, with the tips of their bills in the water and slightly open, filtering tiny food items from just below the surface. Sometimes a flock will feed this way in unison, walking forward, swinging their heads rhythmically from side to side.

American avocets form breeding colonies numbering dozens of pairs. When breeding is over the birds gather in large flocks, sometimes including hundreds of birds. Nesting occurs near water, usually on small islands or boggy shorelines where access by predators is difficult. The female lays four eggs in a saucer-shaped nest, and both sexes take turns incubating them. Upon hatching, the chicks feed themselves; they are never fed by their parents. This species is migratory, and mostly winters on the southern Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Mexico and the United States.
(Fig. 03)
(Fig. 04)