Sunday 19 May
Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Avocet fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
An elegant and striking bird (3), the avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) gains its common name from the black colouration on its head, which resembles the cap once worn by advocates, a term used for lawyers in certain countries (4). The rest of the plumage is primarily white, with a black band on the wing, black wing tips and a black striped pattern on the back (3). One of the most distinctive features of the avocet is its long, slender, upturned bill. The bill is black and is longer in the male than the female (2).
The juvenile avocet is similar in appearance to the adult, but with brown colouration in the areas where the adult is black. The plumage on the juvenile’s upperparts is also mottled brown (2) (3). The long legs are conspicuously blue-grey in both sexes and dangle well beyond the tail when the avocet is in flight (2) (3).
- Also known as
- Pied avocet.
- Avocette à tête noire. Top
BirdLife International - Pied avocet:
RSPB - Avocet:
BBC Wildlife Finder - Pied avocet:
Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain walks:
- Avian botulism
- A paralytic, often fatal disease of birds caused by the ingestion of toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
- Avian influenza
- Also known as “bird flu”, a contagious disease caused by any strain of influenza virus that is carried by and primarily affects birds.
- Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
- Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following: a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a group that occupies and defends an area.
IUCN Red List (January, 2012)
- Hayman, P., Marchant, J. and Prater, T. (1986) Shorebirds. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
- Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
- MobileReference. (2008) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of European Birds: An Essential Guide to Birds of Europe. MobileReference, Boston.
BirdLife International - Pied avocet
- Parkin, D.T. and Knox, A.G. (2010) The Status of Birds in Britain and Ireland. A&C Black, London.
RSPB - Avocet (January, 2012)
British Trust for Ornithology - Avocet (January, 2012)
Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (January, 2012)
Convention on Migratory Species (January, 2012)
Wildlife and Countryside Act (January, 2012)
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
A gregarious species (2) (7), the avocet breeds from April to August in large colonies of between 10 and 70 pairs (5). Sexual maturity is reached at two years old, when the avocet will find a breeding ground, often different to where it was reared. This breeding ground is where the avocet will return each year to breed (7).
The nest of the avocet consists of a scrape made in sand, mud or short vegetation on the ground (5), into which three or four eggs are laid (8). The nests within the colony are usually only one metre away from each other (2), with some recorded only 20 to 30 centimetres apart (5). The male and female avocet stay together for the breeding season (7), sharing responsibility for incubating the eggs for between 23 and 25 days (8). The chicks fledge the nest after 35 to 42 days (8). The pair bond between the male and female is only sustained for one breeding season, after which they separate and join a flock to begin migration (7).
The migration of northern populations begins between August and October, with the avocets heading south in a flock, stopping in certain areas in great numbers (5). Several thousand individuals may roost together and groups of between 5 and 30 forage collectively (5).
The diet of the avocet is primarily composed of aquatic invertebrates, such as insects, crustaceans, worms and molluscs, as well as small fish and plants (5). It usually takes food from exposed mud or from water (2), using a characteristic foraging technique that involves a sweeping motion of the beak, and it also upends in deep water to reach prey (2) (3).
A highly territorial bird, the avocet will chase away any unwelcome visitors while breeding, lunging towards them with a lowered head and neck, and may even drive away much larger birds such as the common shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) (2).Top
The avocet has an extremely large range across Europe, Africa and Asia. In Africa, it occurs from the most northerly tip of the Rift Valley south to the South African Cape, while its Eurasian distribution extends from the United Kingdom east to northern China (5) (6).
This species is largely migratory, with northern populations generally moving south for the winter. However, avocets in much of Africa and parts of western Europe remain resident year-round (2) (4) (6).Top
Throughout the breeding season, avocets colonise flat exposed areas such as mudflats and sandbanks in shallow, saline or brackish wetlands (2) (5), in areas with minimal vegetation (2). These become exposed by receding waters throughout the summer, creating extra feeding grounds for this species (5).Top
The avocet is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
The avocet population within Europe is threatened by pollution of wetland habitats. Human disturbance has also affected the wintering sites of this species, which have been subject to pollution, river flow reduction, reclamation of land and infrastructure development (5).Top
The avocet is included in the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) (9) and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (10). In the UK it is also named under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which protects the avocet by law and makes it an offence to disturb the birds or their nesting areas (11).
Conservation measures for this species have included efforts to create artificial nesting sites along certain coastlines to attract avocet breeding pairs. Cattle grazing on coastal grasslands is also beneficial to the avocet (5).
The avocet is the emblem of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), as it is symbolic of a successful conservation programme within the United Kingdom (7). Throughout the 19th century, the avocet was on the brink of extinction in the UK, but managed to recolonise beach areas in East Anglia during World War II, increasing its population numbers to a sustainable level (6).Top
Find out more
Find out more about the avocet and its conservation:
You can see the avocet by visiting the Thames Estuary, Essex:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
This species is featured in:
This species is featured in Jewels of the UAE, which showcases biodiversity found in the United Arab Emirates in association with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.