On Exhibit: Sandy Shore & Aviary
flying insects, small fishes, crayfish and seeds
13 to 17 inches (33 to 43 cm)
avocets, family Recurvirostridae
Found across the western and southern United States southward through Central and South America, the Caribbean and Hawaii. Range varies by time of year.
The black-necked stilt is one of the characteristic birds of fresh or salty shallow sloughs and grassy marshes. A graceful bird with uncommonly long red legs, the black-necked stilt can swim (awkwardly) and dive if necessary. It prefers to run about and feed in shallow water.
Because black-necked stilts breed in wetlands, both fresh and salty, their population has been affected by the decrease in wetlands on the Pacific flyway. As a last-resort migratory stopover, flocks as large as 10,000 stilts feed at the Salton Sea in California. Already twenty-five percent saltier than the ocean and getting saltier, the Salton Sea might become too salty for fishes to live in. If fishes can't survive in the Salton Sea, black-necked stilts and many other birds will lose a valuable food source.
For the most part, this bird wades with careful grace through shallow wetlands and fields. In contrast, when agitated during breeding season, it shrieks unceasingly, dives at predators and feigns broken wings.
To cool their nests in hot weather, stilts use their belly feathers to carry water to the nests, sometimes making more than a hundred trips a day.