A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Usually observed standing or walking at pond or lake edges or in other shallow water searching for food, Black-necked Stilt is aptly named for its coloration and its almost absurdly long, pink legs (although at least one field guide calls them orange). Fairly common in appropriate habitat in Sonoma County. Present year-round. Probably best seen in the county at Shollenberger Park. According to Lukas (probably drawing on Burridge), large numbers of Black-necked Stilts is a recent phenomenon in the Bay Area; the first Sonoma County nesting record dates only from 1976.

Unlikely to be confused with any other bird. No other shorebird has a similar pattern of black and white and none has legs as long or as pink. May superficially resemble American Avocet (Recurvirostra americanus) when that bird is in its grey, black, and white winter plumage, but the Avocet has no black on the head or neck, lacks the pink legs, and has a longer, upturned bill. Black-necked Stilt wings are all black in flight, Avocet shows white wing stripes in flight. American Avocet is also a much larger, chunkier bird. Black-necked Stilt is the epitome of shorebird slimness and elegance. Black-necked Stilt tends to pick invertebrates delicately from the surface of of the water, while Avocet has a distinctive way of walking while moving its bill back and forth through the water just under the surface to stir up food, looking like someone using an old-fashioned hand reaper. The bright legs of Black-necked Stilt trail far out in back when flying.

Adult male Black-necked Stilt is starkly black and white, but may show a very slight flush of pink on the white breast in breeding plumage, and breeding birds will usually have deeper pink legs. The female is somewhat browner on the back than the male. Juvenile Black-necked Stilt is brownish on the back, has a grey neck, and its black feathers have distinct buffy fringes. Inner primaries and secondaries are white-tipped in juvenile birds, a feature that may be visible in flight. Legs are a duller greyish pink in young birds. The juvenile in the photo below is mostly in adult plumage but note the diffusely grey neck, the brownish back, and duller leg color.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 24

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

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 68

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 112

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. 40

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 141

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

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

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, p. 97-98

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 28

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 91-93

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 48

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 86

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

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 57

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 224

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 130

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Black-necked Stilt



© 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.


Black-necked Stilts, Shollenberger Park, September 26, 2011.

Black-necked Stilt--adult (background) and juvenile Place-to-Play Park, October 10, 2012

Note juvenile’s browner back, diffuse grey neck, and dull legs

Black-necked Stilt, Shollenberger Park, Petaluma, November 10, 2012

Can’t miss those bubble gum-colored legs.

Black-necked Stilt

Himantopus mexicanus

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

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County