They are extremely noisy when intruders are approaching the nest. They also communicate through a variety of dancing, bowing and crouching displays.
Species: American avocet
Scientific name: Recurvirostra americana
Claim to fame: American avocets are uncommon, but eye-catching, autumn and spring visitors to Missouri wetland areas. These long-beaked waders are western birds with migration routes that are predominantly west of Missouri. However, because this area is on the eastern fringe of the birds’ seasonal travels, birders and visitors of wetland and the shallow areas of lakes are occasionally treated to sights of this large (31-inch wingspan) unique-looking creature.
Species status: North America’s avocet numbers may be showing a slight improvement after more than a century of decline. In the 19th century, the bird’s numbers began to drop as a result of it being one of a variety of species targeted by plume hunters – hunters who harvested birds for their feathers. Wetland habitat degradation continued the bird’s downward spiral for the first part of the 20th century. It’s thought that improved wetland management in some regions may be giving avocet numbers a boost.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the American avocet was written by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1789.
Family matters: American avocets belong to the bird family Recurvirostridae. This relatively small group of species is characterized by species that have long beaks and long legs.
Length: up to 18 inches
Diet: The bulk of an avocet’s diet is aquatic insects and other types of invertebrates found in the water. They feed in shallow water while wading and, in deeper water, while swimming. They locate food by sight and snatch it with their long beaks or they sweep their beaks through the water and capture their prey by touch.
Weight: up to 11 ounces
Distinguishing characteristics: These sleek, long-legged birds have black bills and grayish-blue legs. They have white bodies and black wings overlaid with a semblance of white striping. In spring and summer, the heads and necks of both genders become a distinct brownish-cinnamon color. Probably the most obvious characteristic of an avocet is its long, slightly up-turned beak. The bills of females tend to have more of an upward curve while male beaks generally are straighter. American avocets make loud “wheet,” “pleat”, and “kleeap” sounds that are sometimes repeated. They are extremely noisy when intruders are approaching the nest. They also communicate through a variety of dancing, bowing and crouching displays.
Life span: Avocets have been known to live nine years in the wild.
Habitat: Their breeding habitat is marshes, beaches, prairie ponds and shallow lakes. They nest on open ground on or near shore areas, often with other wading birds.
Life cycle: Breeding occurs between April and June in lakes and marshes in the western United States. (Great Salt Lake in Utah and the adjacent Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge are renowned avocet-viewing areas in summer.) Nests consist of scrapes in the ground that are sometimes lined with dry grass or mud chips. The female lays three-five eggs (four is the average). Eggs are olive-colored with brown and black spots. Incubation is 22-29 days. The young fledge in 28 to 35 days. They winter along the Pacific coastal regions of Mexico, in Central America and in the Gulf Coast area.