A dozen American avocets graced Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning, feeding in a shallow pool with blue-winged teal, American coot and a host of shorebirds. Having wintered along the Gulf Coast or in Florida, they are headed for ephemeral wetlands, alkaline lakes and prairie ponds across the High Plains. Many of those that winter in Mexico breed in the Intermountain West while permanent populations reside in the Central Valley of California.
These elegant birds, equipped with a long, up-curved bill, feed on aquatic invertebrates, sweeping the shallows to locate their prey. Monogamous for the breeding season, avocets are highly territorial, aggressively defending their offspring from intruders and predators. Following elaborate mating displays, the nest is placed on the ground, generally within a shallow scrape near the edge of a lake or pond; 3-4 eggs are normally laid though avocets sometimes parasitize the nests of black-necked stilts (and vice versa).
American avocets are most abundant across the Western U.S. and are relatively uncommon migrants in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. Today's flock was thus a special treat for those of us who visited the Missouri River floodplain on this cool and breezy morning.