Bird GuideStilts and AvocetsBlack-necked Stilt

At a Glance

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.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Stilts and Avocets
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
California, Florida, Mid Atlantic, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


13-16" (33-41 cm). Slender, with very long thin legs, thin straight bill. Sharp black-and-white pattern, coral-pink legs. In flight, wings solid black above. Female browner than male on center of back; juvenile has pale scaling above.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Red, White
Wing Shape
Narrow, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

A sharp kip-kip-kip-kip.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Raucous, Scream


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.



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.


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

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black-necked Stilt. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Black-necked Stilt

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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