Avocet: Large shorebird with very thin, upturned bill. Mostly white with black patches in wings, on head, and on nape. Bill black, long legs gray. Feeds by sweeping distinctive bill from side to side in shallow, briny water or mud. Legs project during strong, swift flight.
Range and Habitat
Avocet: Both a migrant and a resident breeder in England. Found breeding along the east coast in summer; migrants head for the southwest coastline in winter. Can be seen wading in mudflats, lagoons, sandy beaches and estuaries. Some birds winter in Africa.
Avocets and Stilts (Recurvirostridae)
The taxonomic order CHARADRIIFORMES (pronounced kah-RAH-dree-ih-FOR-meez) is composed of nineteen families, including the oystercatchers, the stone curlews, the plovers, and the avocets and stilts.
The family Recurvirostridae (pronounced re-CURV-ih-ROS-truh-dee) can be found on all continents except for Antarctica and is composed of ten species of stilts and avocets in three genera.
There are two species of stilts and avocets in two genera that have occurred in Europe. They are the Black-winged Stilt, and the Avocet (Pied).
The stilts and avocets are known for their slender appearance and distinctive bills. The Avocet, in particular, is known for its unusual, upcurved bill.
Avocets and stilts are among the most slender and delicate looking birds. They are medium sized with long, very thin legs, and needle-like bills that are straight in the stilts, and upcurved in the avocets. They have rather long, thin necks, small heads, and long, pointed wings.
The plumages of avocets and stilts in Europe are mostly white with varying amounts of black on the upperparts.
While the legs of the Avocet are grey, those of the stilts are bright red-pink.
In Europe, stilts and avocets occur in estuarine habitats, salt evaporation ponds, in saltwater marshes, brackish lagoons, and freshwater marshes. Both European members of this family are found in coastal areas of western and southern Europe, and also occur inland in parts of central and eastern Europe.
The Avocet migrates to western and southern Europe and northern Africa, and the Black-winged Stilt mostly migrates to sub-Saharan Africa.
Stilts and avocets often occur in small flocks outside of the breeding season. At all times of the year they forage by wading in shallow water, the stilts probing for insects, crustaceans and other small creatures in the mud and water, and the Avocet searching for similar prey items by sweeping its bill from side to side.
Neither the Avocet nor the Black-winged Stilt are threatened in Europe, although drainage of wetlands could potentially affect both species.
Stilts and avocets are very vocal birds during the breeding season. They often give loud alarm calls when any potential predator is sighted and can thus alert birders to the presence of falcons or other birds of prey in the general vicinity.