It’s still warm outside, but the days are slowly cooling down and getting shorter. Which means it’s once again fall migration! Shorebird migration actually starts in July, but even now you’ll still find lots of them coming through into late fall. One of my favorite shorebirds migrating through right now (and easy to identify) is the American Avocet.
American Avocets are large shorebirds, easy to spot with their black and white wings. When they come through in the spring, they have beautiful rust colored heads. If you see one now, they are likely to have a pale gray head. In all plumages, I find them very elegant.
Here in Oklahoma, you can find them across most of the state in shallow wetlands or on the lake shore during spring and fall migration, but they do breed up in the northwest part of the state & the panhandle. Here in Oklahoma City I usually find them at places like Lake Hefner or Arcadia during migration, using their long, slightly upturned bills to feed along the shore.
They lay their eggs directly on the ground, with the female making a scrape in the ground at several locations before settling on one. Interestingly enough, these birds have been known to practice brood parasitism, meaning they lay eggs in the nest of another to be raised by the other bird. Typically a female will lay an egg in the nest of another female, but avocet eggs have been found in Short-billed (Mew) Gull nests. Avocets themselves sometimes fall prey to brood parasitism themselves, as Black-necked Stilts or even Common Terns have laid eggs in avocet nests! Avocet babies are precocial, and can leave the nest to walk around within 24 hours of hatching.
American Avocets currently have a stable population. Like many shorebirds, loss of suitable habitat in shallow wetlands can affect them, as do chemicals that may contaminate their preferred habitat. Hopefully next time you are out at the lake you will be able to find some of these beautiful birds!
References: allaboutbirds.org & Sibley’s (range map)