Birds – Avocets

The Avocets and Stilts form a very well marked group, often separated as a distinct family (Recurvirostridce), and distinguished at once by their large size, excessively long legs, long slender necks, and elongated, awlshaped bills, with the nostrils within the basal fourth. The hind toe may or may not be present, while the front toes are always more or less webbed. Of the three genera we may first notice the Avocets (Recurvirostra), of which there are four species, one each in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. In these the hind toe, though rudimentary, is present, the front toes are all webbed, and the slender bill decidedly curved upward at the tip. The American Avocet (R. americana) is six-teen or seventeen inches long and has the head and neck cinnamon-rufous, the back, tail, and abdomen white, and the scapulars and primaries black, while the other coverts and secondaries are white; in winter the coloration is similar except that the head and neck are white or pearly gray. This species is found in the temperate portions of North America, being rare on the Atlantic coast, nesting from Illinois northward to the Saskatchewan and thence westward, and wintering along the Gulf coast and in Guatemala, Cuba, and Jamaica. It is a very graceful bird, frequenting pools and shallow ponds, and is ordinarily not very wild or suspicious. Regarding its habits we quote from Dr. Coues, who found a colony in some shallow, reedy ponds near the Arkansas River: ” They were quite gentle and familiar, and not at all disturbed by my approach, displaying a characteristic of theirs during the breeding season, at least in regions where they are not often molested. They walked leisurely up to the belly in the water, with graceful, deliberate steps, each of which was accompanied with a swaying of the head and neck, as usual with birds of similar form. When approached too closely, they rose lightly from the water, uttering their peculiar cries, flapped leisurely to a little distance, and again alighted to pursue their peaceful search for food, forgetting, at least not heeding, their recent alarm. As they rose from the water, their singular, long legs were suffered to dangle fora few moments, but were afterward stretched stiffly backward, as a counterpoise to their long necks; and, thus balanced, their lithe bodies were supported with great ease by their ample wings.” The nests are placed on the ground in marshy places, often amongst tall grasses, and are composed of a thick bed of old grass stems. The eggs, three or usually four in number, are pale olive or clay-color, thickly spotted with chocolate-brown. The usual tactics are adopted by the old birds to lead an intruder from the nest or very young chicks. The food of the Avocet consists of insects, mollusks, and other small aquatic life, and is secured by moving the head from side to side while the bill is passing through the soft mud.