Recurvirostridae – Avocets & Stilts

Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta ©Trevor Hardaker Website

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 Species
  • Number of bird species: 10

Useful Reading
  • Shorebirds

    (WorldLife Library) by Des Thimpson, Ingvar Byrkjedal 2001 ISBN: 1841070750 Buy this book from
  • Shorebirds

    An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World by Pter Hayman, John Marchant and Tony Prater - Helm 1986 ISBN: 0713635096 Buy this book from
  • Shorebirds of North America - The Photographic guide

    by Dennis Paulson Christopher Helm 2005. Price ?24.99p ISBN: 071367377X Buy this book from
  • Waders of Europe, Asia & North America

    by Stephen Message & Don Taylor published by Christopher Helm 2006 price ?24.99p See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 071365290X Buy this book from
  • Australia Wader Study Group

    The Australasian Wader Studies Group was formed in 1981 as a special interest group of Birds Australia. The group is an non-government organisation dedicated to studying waders (otherwise known as shorebirds) throughout the East-Asian Australasian Flyway. There are about 330 members, of which 90 are from Asia
  • International Wader Study Group

    The International Wader Study Group (IWSG) is an association of amateurs and professionals from all parts of the world interested in Charadrii (waders or shorebirds). Membership of the WSG is currently over 650 worldwide. Members can be found in over 50 countries around the world, including all European countries and the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia. The interests of the group have diversified from its original focus from ringing and migration-related studies to embrace all aspects of wader biology.
  • Western Atlantic Shorebird Association

    The first research project to be part of WASA is the International Banding Project which is being led by Professor Allan Baker, Canada and Patricia M. Gonz
  • Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

    WHSRN is a voluntary, non-regulatory coalition of over 200 private and public organizations in seven countries working together to study and conserve shorebirds throughout their habitats. Participation in WHSRN provides the site with international recognition as a major host for shorebirds. OUR MISSION: The conservation, restoration, and management of critical shorebird habitats throughout the Americas
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Other Links
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    This is a blog of The New Shorebirds Handbook Project which aims to bring together the current knowledge on shorebird science, conservation and a little bit more. By following the blog, readers could insight into the progress and important milestones of the project and the recent news on the world of waders and a bit more of us, the authors….
  • Wader Quest

    It is vital to to take action to prevent the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from becoming extinct. Wader Quest is an attempt to raise money and awareness to the plight of, not just these tiny wanderers but of wader species worldwide…
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