American Avocet: Graceful Wader

By Dave Hanks

There it was – wading in the water of the alfalfa field I was irrigating. Having never seen that bird before, it took my breath away. I thought it was one of the most glorious birds I had seen, and I couldn’t wait to identify it!

The American Avocet is 17 to 19 inches tall. It has a long neck, and a long. upturned bill that is used as a “water sweep.” As they wade, they sweep the water for insects, seeds, or aquatic invertebrates. The female is slightly smaller than the male with a shorter, more curved beak. Eggs are laid in a grass-lined nest upon a mud flat. They require 3 to 4 weeks to hatch, but the chicks are precocial (can run & feed themselves upon hatching). Parents are very aggressive around their nest and will attack hawks and ravens. Avocets will also lay an egg or two in other Avocet nests. They will also parasitize the nests of other species.

Avocets are often in a group with Black-Necked Stilts (another wading species), especially in winter, after a short migration to the open waters of the coast. In winter, their plumage loses the bright, rusty colors in favor of simple blacks and whites.

The American Avocet is one of the most colorful of the wading birds, and is certainly one of the most graceful of all bird species. There are two reliable areas to see this stately bird during the spring breeding season. One is the Bear River Refuge that is west of Brigham City, Utah. The other is the Camas Marsh, just south of Hill City, Idaho

(Marsh land reflection)