As a short, squat person, I have always envied long-legged creatures. That fact alone doesn’t explain my fascination with birds who seem to walk on stilts, but it might contribute.
And so it was with great joy that, in early April, I greeted the first sizeable flock of migratory shorebirds to grace the shore of one of our city’s lakes, a flock comprised of the gorgeously endowed American Avocet. With a white body that sports black shoulder patches and wingtips plus bluish legs, its most conspicuous feature is the salmon wash that envelops head, neck, and breast. This attractive-not-only-to-humans-but-also-and-especially-to-potential-mates color adorns the bird only during the breeding season and is replaced by a faint gray during the remaining months of the year.
The bird’s long, slender, and slightly upturned beak is responsible for its scientific designation, Recurvirostra americana (Latin recurvus, bent back and rostra, bill)—an instance of a logical name, as it actually describes one of the easily identifiable features.
Four species of avocets exist worldwide: one each in South America (Andean Avocet), Eurasia/Africa (Pied Avocet), and Australia (Red-necked Avocet), plus the North American representative. Our American Avocet winters along shores of the Carolinas, Florida, California, and Mexico, as well as on some Caribbean islands. In the spring, many of their numbers fly to several north-central and northwestern US states and south-central Canadian provinces to breed and raise their young, before returning south in autumn.
Avocets nest in some parts of Colorado, but here in Colorado Springs we get to enjoy them mainly during their spring and fall migrations, when they spangle the shores of ponds and other watery bodies to rest and refuel. And to delight anyone with eyes to see. To watch them wade on their tall legs through the shallow water while sweeping their beaks from side to side in search of aquatic insects is to be reminded of a well-choreographed dance performance.
To enlarge a photo, click on it.
Groups of birds have inspired a seemingly endless list of unconventional names to call them by, such as a conclave of cardinals, a charm of hummingbirds, or a whirligig of phalaropes (if you are interested in more of these innovative collective terms, click here). I searched in vain for an alternative appellation for an assembly of avocets, but came up empty-handed. My suggestion—and I’m sure I’m not the first one to think so: a ballet of avocets.
For a previous post about American Avocets, in which I addressed one individual bird in a letter, see the following: https://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2020/01/22/american-avocet/