Earth Notes: American Avocets

Sep 13, 2017

The American avocet is a rare sight as it migrates across the Colorado Plateau in spring and fall. The birds fly south in the winter to Mexico and the southern United States. They wing their way north in spring, hundreds of miles over arid western lands to reach their summering grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada. 

American avocets
Credit Max Taylor

This long-legged shorebird has a reverse-curved bill designed for scooping up aquatic invertebrates from the bottom of shallow waters. It’s elegant in profile and comes in stunning brown, black, and white.

They’re not commonly seen in our region—when they do arrive, they descend suddenly from the sky in remote regions to the utter surprise of locals. A small flock was seen not long ago at a spring on Hopi land in northern Arizona.

The avocets stop to rest and slake their thirst wherever they find water—at rivers, springs, water tanks, even wastewater treatment reservoirs. They’re reluctant to leave until they’ve had their fill—swishing their long, recurved beaks under water, stirring up insects for food to fuel their long-distance travels.

To see an American avocet on the arid Colorado Plateau is a highlight—and a vivid reminder of the crucial need for water for all living things.