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This beautiful black and white bird is so strikingly impressive that it has been adopted as a symbol by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. These graceful waders belong to the Recurvirostridae family and can be immediately identified by their long, upward curved beaks. The four species are widely distributed and are mostly shore birds with the exception of the Chilean avocet which lives high in the Andes. These birds are known to breed in mud flats, lagoons and salt marshes around the coast. Occasionally they will breed in less saline areas but outside of the breeding season they are often seen near sand banks, shoals, flats or around lakes and river.
When the avocet is in flight the neck is slightly extended giving it the appearance of being quite short. It's legs are held out, extended well beyond the tail and the wing beats are rapid and regular until it lands. When the avocet lands it glides in and then stands for a short time with its wings extended. Occasionally an avocet will be seen alone but in most cases these birds are quite gregarious and often seen in large flocks. Their cry is a musical, flute like klooit sound that is reminiscent of an alarm clock when it is uttered more rapidly. In most cases the feeding habits of these birds depend on the shape of their bill. Most will use their long bill to probe the mud and sand along the shoreline in search of small animals. The curved bill avocet live on small crustaceans, fishes and mollusk, as well as seeds and other plant materials that float near the shore.
Avocets nest in small colonies building their small nest as close as two feet apart. No nest materials are used since the majority of the nest are in sand but if vegetation is close by it may be used in the nest building. Since the nest are on beach areas the colonies are subject to sudden flooding. When this occurs the avocets can be seen rushing around collecting materials to raise their eggs clear of the water. Avocets, like many animal species, become savage during the breeding season. The breeding pair will attack and chase away intruders with a vengeance. The mating is accompanied by an elaborate ceremony that usually takes place in the water. After mating the female will lay between 2 and 8 eggs around late April or early May. Incubation of the eggs takes around 24 days with both parents attending the nest. Once the chicks hatch they are left to fend for themselves, leaving the nest soon after hatching. Most can be swimming and hunting for food when they are only a few hours old.
Predators of the avocet include man, rats and any other animal that can take advantage of a ground nesting bird. Most avocets show little fear of man and some have even been known to fly out to scare a human who has gotten too close to its nest. Avocets are also known to perform distraction displays such as the broken wing display to lure an enemy away. When doing this the bird will lurch over the ground with one wing flapping helplessly while uttering distressful cries. Doing this makes the bird very conspicuous to any predator who is usually distracted from the camouflaged eggs and young. The destruction of the avocets habitat has led to a decrease in their numbers but today their numbers are growing due to suitable conditions for breeding that have been created.