Photo: Verdon Tomajko/Audubon Photography Awards

American Avocet

Recurvirostra americana

Around lake shores and tidal flats, especially in the wide-open spaces of the west, flocks of elegant American Avocets wade in the shallows. 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.
Conservation status Population probably stable or possibly increasing. Numbers occurring in east (as migrants and wintering birds) have increased greatly during recent decades. Undoubtedly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which are likely to cause major changes to western wetlands.
Family Stilts and Avocets
Habitat Beaches, flats, shallow lakes, prairie ponds. Widespread on shallow waters and extensive mudflats, both along coast and in the interior. Typically in very open situations, with little vegetation. Inland, often favors salty or alkaline lakes more than fresh waters.
Around lake shores and tidal flats, especially in the wide-open spaces of the west, flocks of elegant American Avocets wade in the shallows. 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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • fledgling
  • nonbreeding adults
  • breeding adults
Feeding Behavior

Forages in a variety of ways. Often sweeps head from side to side, with upturned tip of bill barely submerged in shallow water, finding food by touch. Also finds food visually, picking items from surface of water or mud, or plunging head into water; sometimes snatches flying insects as they pass.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-5. Olive-buff, blotched with brown and black. Incubation is by both parents, 23-25 days. Female incubates at night, both sexes take turns during day. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching, find all their own food. Both parents tend young. Age at first flight about 4-5 weeks.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching, find all their own food. Both parents tend young. Age at first flight about 4-5 weeks.

Diet

Mostly small crustaceans and insects, also some seeds. Feeds on abundant tiny creatures that live in or near shallow water. Diet includes many midge larvae and other aquatic insects, small crustaceans. On lakes in west may feed heavily on brine shrimp and brine flies.


Nesting

Typically nests in loose colonies, sometimes mixed with Black-necked Stilts. If predators approach a colony on foot, several adults may perform a distraction display nearby, running about in a crouch with both wings spread. If eggs or young are directly threatened, adult avocets may fly straight at an intruder, calling loudly. Nest site is on bare open ground, not far from water. Nest (built by both sexes) may be a simple scrape in soil, or scrape lined with pebbles and other debris, or a mound built up to more than a foot tall.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Most migrate to the coast (or to valleys of California) in winter. Some migrate well to the east, wintering along much of Atlantic Coast, with flocks of nonbreeders remaining through the summer there.

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Migration

Most migrate to the coast (or to valleys of California) in winter. Some migrate well to the east, wintering along much of Atlantic Coast, with flocks of nonbreeders remaining through the summer there.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud repeated wheep.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Stilts and Avocets Sandpiper-like Birds

American Avocet

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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Western Water

Western Water

Audubon is working to identify, protect, and restore priority habitats in the Colorado River basin and around intermountain saline lakes

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