The American avocet is a large, migratory shorebird that forages for food in wetlands, marshes, tidal flats and shallow lakes and ponds. They have long bluish legs, a long neck and a thin, long, upturned black bill.

Physical Description

American avocets have long bluish legs and a thin, long upturned black bill that is about 3.2 to 3.7 inches (8.2 to 9.5 centimeters) in length. Adults have white underparts and black wings with a white "V." Their head and neck are rusty orange in color during the breeding season and change to grayish white during the nonbreeding season.  

Size

Adults are 17 to 18.5 inches (43 to 47 centimeters) long, have a wingspan of 28.4 inches (72 centimeters), and weight 10 to 12 ounces (0.3 kilograms).

Native Habitat

American avocets prefer wide open areas with little vegetation, like shallow fresh and saltwater wetlands, mudflats, tidal lagoons, rice fields, flooded pastures and ponds. 

Lifespan

American avocets have a lifespan of about 9-15 years in the wild. In zoos, they live for at least 20 years.

Communication

American avocets often make loud, repetitive "wheet," "pleet," and "kleap" calls. They can be very noisy when intruders approach their nests. They also are known to communicate with unique displays of dancing, crouching and bowing. 

Food/Eating Habits

Their diet primarily consists of aquatic invertebrates, including beetles, midges, brine flies, fairy shrimp and water fleas. They also eat small fish and seeds from aquatic plants. They often capture food by placing their bill slightly open in the water and sweeping it from side to side, a behavior known as "scything."

Sleep Habits

American avocets rest in large flocks, often with other shorebirds. They are crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk.

Social Structure

Adults form pairs during the breeding season and nest in loose colonies. Outside of the breeding season, avocets gather in large flocks with other shorebirds.

Reproduction and Development

Adults form pairs and typically nest on islands or dikes near water. Pairs build their nest together by scraping a shallow depression into the bare ground, often lining it with grass, pebbles, feathers, shells or other small objects.  

Pairs have one brood per season, usually consisting of three to four eggs. Both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs during the day, though the female incubates alone at night. Eggs hatch after 18 to 29 days.

Newly hatched chicks have soft, downy feathers and are able to leave the nest and walk around soon after hatching. Both parents take care of the young until they are able fly at about four to five weeks later.  

Conservation Efforts

Although American avocet populations have remained relatively stable over the last 40 years, they are threatened by habitat loss and climate change.

Help this Species

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle — in that order! Cut back on single-use goods, and find creative ways to reuse products at the end of their life cycle. Choose recycling over trash when possible.
  • Be a smart consumer. Choose products made with sustainable ingredients, such as Smithsonian certified Bird Friendly coffees, which support farmers striving to limit their impact on wildlife and habitat.
  • Practice ecotourism by being an advocate for the environment when you’re on vacation. During your travels, support, visit or volunteer with organizations that protect wildlife. Shop smart too! Avoid buying products made from animals, which could support poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
  • Organize or attend a stream, river, lake or other waterway cleanup in your area to preserve aquatic habitats for local species.
  • Avoid single-use plastics, such as plastic bottles, bags and utensils. Choosing reusable options instead can help reduce plastic pollution.
  • Protect local waterways by using fewer pesticides when caring for your garden or lawn. Using fertilizers sparingly, keeping storm drains free of litter and picking up after your pet can also improve watershed health.

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