American Avocet (Recurvirostra Americana) by Kim Ehn
Avocets are a spectacular-looking shorebird that regularly swims as they feed in deep water. Their long, blue legs and partially webbed feet allow them to wade in marshy pond and lake edges. The long, smoothly upcurved bill sweeps through the water scything as they capture larger organisms like aquatic invertebrates and fish. Pecking, plunging, and snatching are their other methods of feeding on insect larvae, seeds, and amphipods.
Their bold black and white pattern on the back and wings, and duck-like flight distinguish them at a distance. The buffy orange summer (Breeding/Alternate plumage) coloring of the head and long neck turns to the grayish white (Winter/Basic plumage) that we see in the migrants of September. Only the length and curve of the bill differs between the male and female. Male bills are longer and straighter than those of females.
Breeding and nesting occurs in southern Canada and western U.S., with both parents building the nest, incubating the eggs, and raising the young. Nests are often placed on small islands of vegetation right in the open. At Consumnes River Preserve, near Sacramento, California, I was able to watch courtship displays in shallow water. Pairs do not continue their bond once the young fledge.
In Indiana, small flocks of fall migrating American Avocets are seen along the shores of Lake Michigan, and at water habitats in Greene, Monroe, and Gibson counties. Single bird sightings have occurred in past years at various locations throughout the state. Spring migrants occur infrequently, although in April 2013, Amy Kearns counted 23 at Patoka River NWR, in Gibson County.