One large shorebird with striking plumage that I look forward to seeing during the spring migration is the American avocet (Recurvirostra americana). Although it summers in the western interior, not too far from where we live, the avocet is only here for a short time in April before moving on. Winters are spent along the West, Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
What a beautiful bird!! The avocet, with its long blue-gray legs, has a black and white back, white underparts and, during the breeding season, a rusty-brown head and neck. The neck becomes a greyish color during the eclipse or non-breeding season. There is white at the base of the bill and a white eye-ring. Although the male and female look similar, the long, black, upturned bill is longer and straighter in the male. I love to watch the avocets as they strut about in the shallow water.
A resident of shallow fresh and saltwater wetlands, the avocet catches aquatic invertebrates by sight and by sweeping its bill through the water, catching prey by touch. In addition to insects and crustaceans, the avocet also eats aquatic plants.
The nest of an American avocet is simply a little depression in the soft sand or mud lined with grasses. They also build nests on natural platforms of mud or grass. Interestingly, if the water level rises avocets raise the eggs a foot or more by putting sticks and weeds underneath the eggs to keep them dry. The parents are very aggressive about defending their nests and will attack predators. The chicks leave the nest within 24 hours possessing the ability to walk and swim.
These avocets were photographed at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA). Although it is not a good picture I included the flying avocets to show the difference between male a female bills. This is a pair that I watched. The female is on the left and it is easy to see how her bill is more upturned than the male’s.
Would I appreciate these elegant birds less if they were constant companions rather than brief spring visitors?