Mystery Bird: American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana

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[Mystery bird] American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana, photographed in Arizona. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Richard Ditch, 2007 [larger view].

Date Time Original: 2007:03:09 09:10:55
Exposure Time: 1/1250
F-Number: 8.00
ISO: 200
Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.
Since I know this bird is easy for you guys, I am going to ask you to tell me what you think the bird is doing, standing there like that with its wings standing straight up.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Few indeed are the shorebirds with clear blue legs and feet (we see here the tibia and a bit of the tarsus, along with the stout ankle joint). The black-and-white wing, russet neck, and upcurved bill leave us no real alternatives: what could it be but an American Avocet?
Red-necked Avocet really isn’t that similar. In addition to the different pattern of neck and head, this lovely portrait shows the dark inner primaries characteristic of American Avocet; the same feathers are white on Red-necked.
What do we do when we encounter so easily identified a bird? We try to go further. In this case, the abruptly upturned bill tip lets us identify the bird with some confidence as a male; female American Avocets have more evenly and more gently curved bills.
Review all mystery birds to date.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana

  1. Bob O'H says:

    Well, assuming it wasn’t involved in a strange accident involving a rubber wall, it’s an avocet. Now, unless Arizona has moved, it’s in the US, so it must be an American Avocet.
    It looks like the photo on Wikipedia too, so it must be.

  2. That’s an American Avocet. For field marks, well, the bird has the unmistakable appearance of… an American Avocet. The black and white pattern and the recurved bill are the first things I notice, I guess. The bird’s overall silhouette is pretty unmistakable, too.
    This is an adult in breeding plumage (the buffy head and neck), and I think it’s a male, based on the beak curvature being slightly less than it would be in the case of a female.

  3. fsb says:

    What Bob and John said.

  4. Selasphorus says:

    American Avocet. The upward-curving bill is the big giveaway, but the rusty head is pretty distinctive of a breeding bird.

  5. Firebyrd says:

    Whoo, another I can do thanks to a summer research project! That’s definitely an American Avocet. The red head combined with the black and white body and the curved bill makes it extremely obvious if you’ve seen them before. Or trekked through numerous wetlands marking and counting their eggs and nests over and over to determine nesting success rates.

  6. Denise says:

    I know this is an American Avocet. This summer I saw several birds in this stance; I thought they might be defending their nest terrority. Either that or maybe a stretch after sunning.

  7. Ron Sullivan says:

    I’m just guessing, but that gesture looks kind of aggressive to me, largely because of the lowered and forward-thrust head.