Part of the “wader” group of birds, the avocet is easily distinguished by its “pied” (black and white) colouration. Adults are white, with black caps and black patches on the wings and back. They have long legs (7-10cm), almost blue in colour but arguably their key feature is their long, black upturned bill (7-8.5cm long). Juvenile plumage is more grey in colour than the adults.
Migratory species, spending winter in Africa and southern Asia. Breeding occurs across Europe and Asia, including the UK.
Breeding habitats are normally shallow lakes, or coastal lagoons with brackish water and exposed mud flats. They nest on mud scrape or in areas with scarce vegetation.
Their bill is a key indication of the diet of these birds. Avocets feed on aquatic invertebrates (crustaceans, worms and insects), using their long bill to probe in sediments, or sweeping it side to side through the water (unique behaviour to avocets).
Live in colonies outside of breeding season that can number between 6-30 individuals, even up to hundreds of individuals when feeding. Mating behaviour involves the mutual preening between male and female, continuing with the male preening the female and switching from side to side. Their call is a melodious “kluit kluit”.
The avocet had stopped breeding in the UK by 1840 due to damage to both breeding grounds and wintering grounds overseas. In 1947, the RSPB reserve at Minsmere was recolonised due to beaches being closed during the Second World War. Since then, due to the management of brackish lagoons within reserves, the avocet has spread across the East and South west and also breeding in Wales and Scotland more recently. They are currently classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation, and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Pollution of wetland habitats with insecticides (diminishing their food supply) as well as the damage or destruction of their important wintering site due to human disturbance, reduced river flow and pollution, were all major contributors for their decline in UK.
Our Avocets share the Ken West aviary with some of our other birds, including egrets, night heron and red-billed chough. You can regularly see them on the ground, sifting through the pools and damp sediment for some tasty treats.
Did you know?
Due to their conservation success, the RSPB adopted the avocet as their logo in 1970.