Distinctive shorebirds: American Avocets

Though many shorebirds are small and often difficult to identify, there are also several larger shorebird species that are distinctive and may be seen not only on coastal shores but at many inland locations. The first one I will feature is the American Avocet, a long-legged shorebird with a long upturned bill.

American Avocets have a colorful head and neck area, described as cinnamon or rusty in appearance (looks salmon colored to me), during spring and summer that makes them stand out in a crowd of other mostly brownish and much smaller shorebirds.

At approximately a foot and a half tall they tower over many other shorebirds.

Unlike some smaller shorebirds that stay at the edge of the water or only wade into shallow areas, the American Avocet will wade into deeper water as seen in the middle photo and even swim. They are not only found on both the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines but also in much of the interior of the U.S. and parts of Canada in fresh water marshes and wetlands.

They often feed by sweeping their bills back and forth across the top of the water they will aquatic insects, small fish and floating seeds. They will also feed by pecking at food objects in the water, plunging into deeper water to grab food and several other feeding behaviors.

Often seen in flocks with other American Avocets or mixed with other shorebird species, they will sometimes feed in large flocks all moving forward together looking like a formidable eating-team intent on devouring all edibles in the area. The bird in the photo on the left has caught some tasty morsel in it’s bill.

Below is a short video from the Draper Museum of Natural History in Wyoming that shows an American Avocets as it feeds in a wetland (and occasionally stops to put it’s long beak to good use in scratching an itch).

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