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Capturing a Special Moment: Mating American Avocets

The American Avocet is a beautiful shorebird that's found in ephemeral wetlands of the United States, mainly west of the Mississippi, south through Central America. (Ephemeral wetlands are seasonal ponds that are wet only seasonally or only in wet years.)

The elegantly curved bill — inspiration for the bird's scientific name, recurvirostra — is used to capture food in muddy substrates, as the avocet picks, probes, and sweeps it across the surface of the mud. The bill is also the key to telling the difference between males and females: the female's bill is shorter and has a more pronounced curve (right bottom).

Every spring, pairs perform a complicated series of breeding displays. These photos were taken by Dan Streiffert, who witnessed a male approach a female on the edge of a lake one morning before sunrise, in arid Eastern Washington. The female gave the "solicitation posture," lowering her head and neck to water level, at times submerging her bill under the surface. The male responded by preening his breast next to her. After copulation — where the male balances on the back of the female — they engaged in the "cross-billed, run display," moving away from the camera.

Have you ever seen this before? Let us know in the comments below!


Visit Dan Streiffert's website.

Listen to BirdNote shows about American Avocets:
Sentinel Birds
The Avocets of Bolivar Flats


Sights & Sounds

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