American Avocet

American Avocet



COMMON NAME: American avocet, blue shanks
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
ORDER: Charadriiformes
FAMILY: Recurvirostridae
GENUS SPECIES: Recurvirosta (backward curved beak) americana (of America)


DESCRIPTION: 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.
FEMALE The bill curves up a little bit more than in the male.
SIZE: Approximately 41-51 cm (16.4-20.4 in.)
WEIGHT: Approximately 300-420 g (11-15 oz.)
DIET: Includes crustaceans and other aquatic animals and plant life
INCUBATION: 22-24 days
CLUTCH SIZE 3-5 eggs
SEXUAL MATURITY: Approximately 1 year
LIFE SPAN: Averages 5 years
RANGE: No data
HABITAT: Inhabits mudflats, saline lakes, fresh water and saltwater marshes, and coastal bays
STATUS: IUCN Not listed
CITES Not listed
USFWS Not listed


1. Avocets feed by thrusting their bill underwater and swinging it side to side along the bottom to stir up aquatic insects.
2. 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.
3. After hatching, the young not only feed themselves, but they can also swim.
4. 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.
5. 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 15,000 miles round-trip and flying at altitudes exceeding 10,000 feet at 50 mph!


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.