American Avocet

Recurvirostra americana
Range Map

The American Avocet’s breeding habitat is marshes, beaches, prairie ponds, and shallow lakes. In North America these birds will breed in summer throughout the Rocky Mountain zone and adjacent prairies from Texas and New Mexico north to southern Canada and the northern Great Basin. Over most of its range, this bird is migratory, but over much of California and central Mexico it is a resident. Winters will find these birds mostly in the southern USA and Mexico.

The early 20th Century saw many wetlands drained and unregulated hunting. During this time, we extirpated American Avocets in the eastern USA. Many of the remaining wetlands have remained contaminated with chemicals such as selenium and methylmercury, which continue to pose threats to chick survival. Yet despite these obstacles, the populations have stabilised in the past 60 years.

Modern science regards the American Avocet as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

I’ve enjoyed meeting American Avocets as I’ve traveled in the Western USA, but I have special memories of those I met while accompanying biologists on their Elegant Tern nesting surveys at the Saltworks in the South San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. These birds and their cousins, the Black-Necked Stilts, place their nests nearer the edges of the salt ponds than do the terns, and bravely endeavored to distract us with their broken wing ploys and loud vocal protests, as we passed by their chosen nest sites on our mission to count the tern’s nests and eggs.

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