Recurvirostridae – Avocets & Stilts
The Recurvirostridae are a family of birds in the wader suborder Charadrii. It contains two distinct groups of birds, the avocets (one genus) and the stilts (two genera).
Avocets and stilts range in length from 30cm to 46cm and in weight from 140g to 435g, males are usually slightly bigger than females. All possess long, thin legs, necks, and bills. The bills of avocets are curved upwards, and are swept from side to side when the bird is feeding in the brackish or saline wetlands they prefer. The bills of stilts, in contrast, are straight. The front toes are webbed, partially in most stilts, and fully in avocets and the Banded Stilt, which swim more. The majority of species’ plumage has contrasting areas of black and white, with some species having patches of buff or brown on the head or chest.The sexes are similar.
Their vocalisations are usually yelps of one or two syllables
Avocets and stilts are a cosmopolitan family, being distributed on all the world’s continents except Antarctica, and occurring on several oceanic islands. Several species are wide-ranging and a few are locally distributed. One species, the Black Stilt of New Zealand, is critically endangered due to habitat loss, introduced predators, and hybridisation with the Pied Stilt.
All species feed on small aquatic animals such as mollusks, brine shrimp and other crustaceans, larval insects, segmented worms, tadpoles, and small fish.
Both stilts and avocets breed on open ground near water, sometimes on muddy areas that may become inundated, often in loose colonies. They defend nesting territories vigorously with aggressive displays, and mob intruders and possible predators with a great deal of noise. They are monogamous, although the pair bonds are not maintained from season to season. Their eggs are light-coloured with dark markings, weighing 22 to 44 grams. Three to four are laid in simple nests, and both parents share the incubation duties, which last 22 to 28 days. The Banded Stilt may breed only every few years, as it breeds on temporary lakes caused by rains in the deserts of Australia. The chicks are downy and precocial, leaving the nest within a day of hatching; they fledge in 28 to 35 days. In all species except the Banded Stilt, the chicks are cared for by the parents for several months, and they may move them to new areas and defend territories there. Banded Stilts deviate from this by collecting their progeny in massive crèches numbering several hundred chicks.
The IOC recognises just 10 species within this family, which are:
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
White-headed Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus
White-backed Stilt Himantopus melanurus
Black Stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae
Banded Stilt Cladorhynchus leucocephalus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
American Avocet Recurvirostra americana
Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae
Andean Avocet Recurvirostra andina
Number of bird species: 10
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