American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana

American Avocet 194x116

American Avocets explode with a loud piercing "kleet" when alarmed!

American Avocets begin to arrive in northwest Montana in April and leave in October. Some of these birds are just migrating through Montana and are stopping in northwest Montana just long enough to fill up with food for the remainder of their journey north in the spring or south in the fall. Others stick around and nest on the scattered wetlands in northwest Montana.

American Avocets are a relatively large shorebird standing at approximately 18” tall. They have a long, slender, recurved bill (curves up slightly) long legs and a long neck. Male beaks are longer and straighter than female beaks. Their wings have a black and white pattern contrasting with their bright white body. The head and neck are a rusty color during the time they are in Montana.

The females lay three to four pointed greenish brown spotted eggs in a small depression on the ground. Sometimes these “scrapes” are lined with vegetation, feathers, pebbles or other small objects and sometimes the nest is completely bare. The young chicks leave the nest within a day after hatching. At this time they can already walk, swim and dive under water to escape predators.

Shorebird beaks are highly adapted to feeding in shallow water and mud flats. American Avocets sweep their curved beaks from side to side underwater as they slowly walk through shallow water – often times in groups. This sweeping action stirs up aquatic insects, crustaceans, small fish and seeds which allow the birds to filter and eat as much as they want. If you watch a group of American Avocets for a long enough time – eventually you will see one plunge their entire head in deeper water!

American Avocets are primarily found on shallow lakes with sparse vegetation. They also frequent wet meadows with some open water. American Avocet numbers began to decline in the 60’s and 70’s as North American wetlands were drained for human uses such as farmland and development. Currently their numbers are stable and American Avocets are listed as a species of Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Permanent and temporary wetlands such as those found on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County are idea migratory habitat for American Avocets as well as many other species of shorebirds.

Learn More about Shorebirds
Montana Field Guide – American Avocet 
Learn more about the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species