Avocet

Recurvirostra avosetta

42-45cm

Appearance

Medium, graceful bird with a diagnostic upturned long, black bill. The sexes are similar except the male's bill is longer and his plumage is more starkly contrasting. The body is mostly white and there are black components on the crown, nape and wings. The feet are webbed and the legs are long and greyish blue. The black wing-tips are revealed in flight and there's a wide black line down each side of the back. The plumage of juveniles is browner and more blended than in the adult.

Habitat

Birds who breed in Britain do so mainly on the coasts of East Anglia and south-east England. Territories are in close proximity to shallow coastal lagoons with brackish water, where they typically nest on small islands.

Character

A social bird who breeds in colonies and joins into flocks when not in breeding season. Feeds by sweeping the bill through the water, back and forth, and also up-ends. Walks quickly when on land and is nimble in flight; its legs dangle beyond the tail. Brave and defensive; will confront larger species, and will call from above a human intruder.

Food

Diet includes shrimps, ragworms, sandhoppers, the larvae of midges and other flies and beetles.

Breeding

Creates a nest of aquatic vegetation, and female lays 3 or 4 eggs in May. Both adults incubate for 23-25 days; hatchlings are able to feed themselves but are brooded until they're bigger. Young can fly after about 35-42 days but they remain in their families for some time afterwards.

Population

Resident birds leave their breeding grounds to moult on nearby estuaries, or some travel to the Netherlands. Many spend winter in southwest England, though some go to Spain, Portugal or Morocco, returning in March. More than 1500 pairs have been breeding in the region in recent years, and in excess of 7500 birds can be in the region during winter.

Observation Tips

There are colonies at Titchwell and Minsmere which are best viewed in spring and summer. Estuaries such as Exe and Tamar are recommended for winter viewing.

Voice

Has a jangly 'klueet-klueet' call, which becomes sharper when it feels threatened.
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