American Avocet

American Avocet

Scientific Classification

Common Name
American avocet, blue shanks
Genus Species
Recurvirosta (backward curved beak) americana (of America)

Fast Facts

The American avocet is a long-legged shorebird with a distinctive long, thin bill that curves upward. It has a black and white striped pattern on the back and sides. During the breeding season, the head and neck are pinkish-tan and during the winter a grayish-white color. The legs and feet are bluish-gray in color.
The female's bill curves up a little bit more than in the male.
Approximately 41 to 51 cm (16.4 to 20.4 in.)
Approximately 300 to 420 g (11 to 15 oz.)
Includes crustaceans and other aquatic animals and plant life
22 to 24 days
Clutch Size
3 to 5 eggs
Sexual Maturity
Approximately 1 year
Life Span
Averages 5 years
No data
Inhabits mudflats, saline lakes, fresh water and saltwater marshes, and coastal bays
Global: Unknown
IUCN: Not listed
CITES: Not listed
USFWS:  Not listed

Fun Facts

Avocets feed by thrusting their bill underwater and swinging it side to side along the bottom to stir up aquatic insects.

Their nests are little more than depressions in the sand or platforms of grass on mudflats. Should the water rise, the breeding pair raises the nest a foot or more with sticks, weeds, bones, and feathers to keep the eggs above water.

After hatching, the young not only feed themselves, but they can also swim.

As a defense, avocets usually use distraction tactics such as loud screeching, a "crippled bird" act, and even a "dive bomb" display where the bird will swoop down on the predator and narrowly miss it until the intruder turns away.

Shorebirds embark on one of the longest migrations of any North American birds, journeying from arctic nesting grounds to winter in Central and South America. Many species travel more than 24,000 km (15,000 miles) round-trip and flying at altitudes exceeding 3,000 m (10,000 ft) at 80 kph (50 mph).

Ecology and Conservation

Loss of breeding habitats as well as alteration or destruction of wetlands is of concern. Nests are susceptible to trampling by cattle, flooding, and pollution. The small breeding population also makes the species susceptible to random climate and environmental changes.


Gotch, A.F. Birds - Their Latin Names Explained. Poole, Dorst: Blandford Press, 1981

Perrins, C. Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World. New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. 1979.

Perrins, C. M. and Dr. Alex L.A. Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File Pub. 1985.

Perrins, C. M. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds: The Definitive Reference to Birds of the World. New York: Prentice Hall Press. 1990.

Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B., Zim, H.S. Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc. 1966.

Thompson, P. 2002. "Recurvirostra americana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web.

United States Geological Survey.