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American Avocet

Recurvirostra americana ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: RECURVIROSTRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

With its elegant profile and striking coloration, the American Avocet is unique among North American birds. 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.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
16.9–18.5 in
43–47 cm
Wingspan
28.3 in
72 cm
Weight
9.7–12.3 oz
275–350 g
Other Names
  • Avocette d'Amérique (French)
  • Avoceta Americana, Piqocurvo (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • In response to predators, the American Avocet sometimes issues a series of call notes that gradually changes pitch, simulating the Doppler effect and thus making its approach seem faster than it actually is.
  • Nesting American Avocets aggressively attack predators, sometimes physically striking Northern Harriers or Common Ravens.
  • A female American Avocet may lay one to four eggs in the nest of another female, who then incubates the eggs. American Avocets may parasitize other species' nests too; single American Avocet eggs have been found in the nests of Mew Gulls. Other species may also parasitize avocet nests. Avocets have incubated mixed clutches of their own eggs and those of Common Terns or Black-necked Stilts. The avocets reared the stilt hatchlings as if they were their own.
  • American Avocet chicks leave the nest within 24 hours after hatching. Day-old avocets can walk, swim, and even dive to escape predators.

Habitat


Marsh

Shallow fresh and saltwater wetlands.

Food


Insects

Aquatic invertebrates.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–4 eggs
Egg Description
Greenish brown with irregular dark spots. Pointed on one end.
Condition at Hatching
Downy and able to walk.
Nest Description

A scrape in the ground, lined with grass or other vegetation, feathers, pebbles, or other small objects, or completely unlined.

Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Probing

In its pre-copulation display, the male American Avocet preens himself with water, gradually gaining intensity to the point of frenzied splashing just before he mounts the female. After copulating, the pair intertwines their necks and runs forward.In territory establishment and in self-defense, performs elaborate ritualized displays. One notable display involves two pairs, or a pair and a third individual, facing each other in a circle and then stretching their bills toward each other. Upon the approach of a terrestrial predator, may approach the predator with a teetering gait and outstretched wings, as if on a tightrope. Also crouches on the ground as if incubating, only to move and crouch again in a new location.Feeds in shallow water, while wading or swimming. Locates food by sight and snaps it up, or sweeps its long bill through the water, capturing prey by touch.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Populations declined in the 1960s and 1970s, largely from the loss of wetlands from water diversion for human use. Contamination of wetland habitat with selenium caused increased developmental abnormalities and mortality. Since 1995, owners of selenium-contaminated sites in northern California have been required to provide safe wetland habitat for the species. Breeding success on the newly created sites has been much greater than initially expected, but long-term prospects for breeding at these sites are not clear.

Credits

  • Robinson, J. A., L. W. Oring, J. P. Skorupa, and R. Boettcher. 1997. American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana). In The Birds of North America, No. (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA., No. 275 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and the American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Range Map Help

American Avocet Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings