American Avocet

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Common Name: American Avocet
Scientific Name: Recurvirostra americana

Size: 18 inches (45.7 cm)

Habitat: North America; winters on the southern Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Mexico and the United States. Shallow fresh and saltwater wetlands.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 100,000 - 1,000,000. Populations declined in the 1960s and 1970s, largely from the loss of wetlands from water diversion for human use. Contamination of wetland habitat with selenium caused increased developmental abnormalities and mortality. Since 1995, owners of selenium-contaminated sites in northern California have been required to provide safe wetland habitat for the species. Breeding success on the newly created sites has been much greater than initially expected, but long-term prospects for breeding at these sites are not clear. Avocets are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Diet: Crustaceans and insects. Forages in shallow water or on mud flats, often sweeping its bill from side to side in water

Nesting: Breeding Coloration: The neck and head are cinnamon colored in the summer and gray in the winter.

The breeding habitat is marshes, beaches, prairie ponds, and shallow lakes in the mid-west and on the Pacific coast of North America.

A scrape styled nest in the ground, lined with grass or other vegetation, feathers, pebbles, or other small objects, or completely unlined.

Avocets nest in small groups, sometimes with other waders. A pair will rear one brood per season, with both male and female providing parental care for the young.

Cool Facts: This avocet has long, thin, gray legs, giving it its colloquial name, "blue shanks".

In response to predators, the American Avocet sometimes issues a series of call notes that gradually changes pitch, simulating the Doppler effect and thus making its approach seem faster than it actually is.

Nesting American Avocets aggressively attack predators, sometimes physically striking Northern Harriers or Common Ravens.

A female American Avocet may lay one to four eggs in the nest of another female, who then incubates the eggs. American Avocets may parasitize other species' nests too; single American Avocet eggs have been found in the nests of Mew Gulls. Other species may also parasitize avocet nests. Avocets have incubated mixed clutches of their own eggs and those of Common Terns or Black-necked Stilts. The avocets reared the stilt hatchlings as if they were their own. American Avocet chicks leave the nest within 24 hours after hatching. Day-old avocets can walk, swim, and even dive to escape predators.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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