Breeding adult male. Photo: Kirk Benson/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.
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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.
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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the American Avocet

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the American Avocet

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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