American Avocet Couple. Notice the more upturned bill on the female on the right.
In breeding plumage, the American Avocet is one of the easiest shore birds to recognize. The cinnamon head and black-and-white wings are characteristic marks. The sexes are the same except for slightly more upturned bill of the female American Avocet. You can see in the picture above that the bird on the right is a female by her upturned bill. If you want to know how to pronounce "Avocet" click here to go to Merriam Webster's online dictionary.
American Avocet in Breeding Plumage foraging and splashing up a storm.
Also characteristic of American Avocets is the way it feeds: swinging its bill back and forth in the water like it was panning for gold. It feeds on small-sized invertebrates (animals without at backbone like little worms, microscopic zooplankton, tiny nematodes, small shrimp, insects, etc.). It also eats some aquatic plant matter. It also probes its bill into the mud to extract tasty little snacks.
American Avocets in the shallows.
American Avocets are seasonally monogamous. They court in style, with lots of flourishes. They cross bills after mating and walk for a while together with one of the male's wing around the female according to Sibley (The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, page 270). They can seem like a very romantic bird.
The chicks are precocial. They can be quite independent. They can feed themselves soon after hatching. Even though the chicks are so independent, the parents are strong defenders of the nesting area, and will attack predators with a powerful offense. They will also fake injury to distract predators away from the nest and young.
Group of Avocets in winter plumage. At San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.
There are four other kinds of Avocet world-wide: American Avocet, Andean Avocet, Pied Avocet, and the Red-necked Avocet. American Avocets tend to be gregarious, hanging out together in large groups of American Avocets and other shores birds. I have seen them with ducks as well.
Hanging out with Pin-tailed Ducks--far right.
American Avocets are part of the family Recurvirostridae. In the United States, the only other Recurvirostridae family member is the long-legged Black-necked Stilt.
Check out American Avocets at a nearby wetlands or beach. They are here year-round and we can see them in all plumages. Try Bolsa Chica, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, or Newport Back Bay. It's a great bird to watch.
American Avocet--Recurvirostra americana from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.
American Avocet Foraging at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in muddy shallows. Notice the side-to-side gold-panning style. The loud machinery is the construction going on. They are creating an education Center out of pre-existing buildings. Grading and other construction makes for a lot of noise near the Audubon House.
OC Birder Girl Links
Places to see American Avocets
American Avocet in breeding plumage with cinnamon head
External Resources and Links
Article includes photographs, range maps, sound files, facts about habitat, behavior, nesting and lots more.
Great site from the University of Michigan which has information about birds and other animals. The American Avocet page includes lots of photographs of American Avocets, their geographic range, habitat, ecosystem roles, food habits, reproduction, behavior, and more.
American Avocet information from the Seattle Audubon Society.
Duncraft: American Avocet
American Avocet profile with tabs for different identification, behavior and more. Very detailed with excellent drawings. Duncraft sells wild bird and squirrel products such as bird seed, bird feeders, bird houses and more. It has a bird guide on its site that is very good. Site worth checking out.
Nature Works: American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana
Information on the American Avocet.
Oiseaux .net: American Avocet
French site with English version. Includes world range map, physical description, voice, behavior, flight, habitat, reproduction, food habits and more.
American Avocets in black-and-white winter plumage.
Links to Journal Articles
Egg Shell Removal Behavior of American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts
A study of interesting American Avocet and the closely related Black-necked Stilt behavior and the reasons it might occur.
Apparent Hybrids between the American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt in California
An article and photo of apparent cross-breeding between two closely related species.
Historical Changes in the Abundance and Distribution of the American Avocet at the Northern Limits of Its Winter Range
Provided by SORA from Western Bird, article discusses several changes that may explain changes of range at one location in Humboldt Bay, California.
American Avocet foraging
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center: American Avocet Photographs
Two Photographs from the US Fish and Wildlife Service
American Avocet in Breeding Plumage Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
American Avocet in plumage between breeding and winter. Might also be a juvenile. Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.