Photo: Ronald Bielefeld/Audubon Photography Awards

Priority Bird

Black-necked Stilt

Himantopus mexicanus

Everything about the Black-necked Stilt seems delicate -- from its incredibly thin stilt-legs to its slim wings and its needle-like bill -- yet it manages to thrive on the sun-baked flats around shallow lakes, some of them in searing climates.
Conservation status Numbers may be increasing as range expands. Quick to take advantage of artificial habitat (sewage ponds, dikes, etc.), so has extended breeding range into new areas recently. The distinctive subspecies in Hawaii is rare and considered endangered.
Family Stilts and Avocets
Habitat Grassy marshes, mudflats, pools, shallow lakes (fresh and alkaline). Found at all seasons at the margins of shallow water in very open country, especially where there is much marsh growth. For nesting, requires bare open ground near water, with little vegetation. Often found in the same places as American Avocet, but the stilt is more partial to fresh water.
Everything about the Black-necked Stilt seems delicate -- from its incredibly thin stilt-legs to its slim wings and its needle-like bill -- yet it manages to thrive on the sun-baked flats around shallow lakes, some of them in searing climates.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • fledgling
  • juvenile, fresh plumage
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Finds most food visually, picking items from surface of water or mud with bill; may spot items underwater, and plunge head into water to take them. A standing bird may grab flying insects as they go past.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-5. Buff, heavily blotched with brown and black. Incubation is by both parents, about 25 days; female may incubate by night, both sexes taking turns by day. On very hot days, adult may go to water and wet belly feathers to cool eggs. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching; are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight about 4-5 weeks.


Young

Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching; are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight about 4-5 weeks.

Diet

Mostly insects and crustaceans. Feeds on very small creatures that live on or near surface of water, including many flies, beetles, and other insects, shrimp, crayfish, snails; sometimes eats tadpoles or tiny fish. Also eats some seeds of aquatic plants. On some western lakes, may feed heavily on brine shrimps and brine flies.


Nesting

Typically nests in loose colonies, sometimes mixed with avocets. If predators approach a colony on foot, several adults may fly to a spot some distance away and perform a distraction display there. Nest site is on bare open ground near water, or on slight rise surrounded by water. Nest (built by both sexes) variable, may be simple scrape in soil or mound built up above water level, lined with pebbles, shells, debris.

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

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

Migration

Vacates most inland areas in winter, moving to coasts, and some may migrate well to the south. Strays sometimes wander far beyond breeding range, especially in late spring.

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Migration

Vacates most inland areas in winter, moving to coasts, and some may migrate well to the south. Strays sometimes wander far beyond breeding range, especially in late spring.

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

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