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Stilts and Avocets: Recurvirostridae

American Avocet (recurvirostra Americana): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: American avocets have blue legs and upwardly curved black bills. The wings and the back are black. The head, neck, and breast are gray during the nonbreeding season but change to orange during the breeding season. Males and females are similar in color but males are often larger. Females have shorter bills with a more pronounced upward curve.

Geographic range: American avocets occupy the western United States, Baja California and much of Mexico, Florida, the eastern coast of the United States, and the Bahamas to Cuba.

Habitat: American avocets use temporary wetland areas, such as areas that flood for part of the year, in the western United States, as well as more permanent wetland habitats.

Diet: American avocets eat aquatic insects, crustaceans, worms, and small fish. They also eat seeds. American avocets often forage, or look for food, in large flocks. They swing their bills through the water to find food, but are also known to peck at food or plunge underwater for it.

Both the male and female American avocet help incubate the eggs, and both feed the chicks once they hatch. Chicks leave the nest after four or five weeks. (© David Weintraub/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Behavior and reproduction: American avocets are found in large flocks during the nonbreeding season. During the breeding season, male-female breeding pairs form and defend territories from other individuals. American avocets threaten an intruder by facing the other bird and extending their necks. Females generally lay four eggs at a time in a grass-lined nest on the ground. Eggs hatch after twenty-two to twenty-nine days. Both the male and female help incubate, or sit on, the eggs, and both feed the chicks once they hatch. Chicks leave the nest after four or five weeks.

American avocets and people: The American avocet was hunted in its habitats in California during the early 1900s, but this practice has stopped.

Conservation status: The American avocet is not considered threatened at this time. However, pollution and destruction of wetland habitats have led to population declines in many parts of its range. ∎



del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 3, Hoatzin to Auks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1996.

Perrins, Christopher, ed. Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2003.

Web sites:

"Avocets, Stilts." Bird Families of the World, Cornell University. http://www.es.cornell.edu/winkler/botw/recurvirostridae.html (accessed on May 1, 2004).

"Family Recurvirostridae (Avocets and Stilts)." Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/classification/Recurvirostridae.html#Recurvirostridae (accessed on May 1, 2004).

"Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)." The Internet Bird Collection. http://www.hbw.com/ibc/phtml/familia.phtml?idFamilia=57 (accessed on May 1, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsStilts and Avocets: Recurvirostridae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Black-winged Stilt (himantopus Himantopus): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, AVOCETS STILTS AND PEOPLE