A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Some consider the Avocet our most elegant shorebird. With its long, recurved bill, its bluish, stilt-like legs, striking black and white wing pattern, and pale brick-colored head and neck in breeding plumage, the Avocet is unique. Fairly common in appropriate habitats--which include freshwater or saltwater marshes and wetlands. Numbers thin somewhat during the summer months, but present year round. Most common in Sonoma County during migration and over the winter. Favors shallow water where the birds may be seen in small groups (occasionally large flocks) scything through the water with the tips of their bills just submerged. This back and forth foraging method alone may be enough to identify an Avocet even at a very long distance. May be seen fairly reliably in Sonoma County at Shollenberger Park and Hudeman Wetlands.

In non-breeding plumage, the reddish areas of the head and neck turn grey (photo below). Sexes may be differentiated by looking at the curve of the bill, which is stronger in the female of the species. The bird in the photo at the top of the page is a female (compare with the non-breeding male in the photo below).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 51

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 238

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 69

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 160

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 172

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 108

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 142

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 172

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, pp. 64-67 (general notes on shorebird ID)

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), p. 217

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 94-96

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 146

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 134

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 120

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 149

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 131

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--American Avocet



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


American Avocet (female), breeding plumage, Hudeman Wetlands, May 1, 2012

American Avocets in non-breeding plumage.

Note less curved bill of the male (compare photo at top of page)

Shollenberger Park, Petaluma, December 15, 2011

American Avocet, non-breeding plumage.

Note lack of red on the head and neck in this plumage. Shollenberger Park, Petaluma, November 8, 2012

American Avocet

Recurvirostra americana

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County