Far, far outside its normal range, the elegant American Avocet has once again made Parker River National Wildlife Refuge a stop over point on its migratory route. Recent records indicate the American Avocet was photographed at Plum island in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, and now 2022. According to local photographer friends, the American Avocet has been here for over a month. When it first arrived, the Avocet still had much of its orangish neck and breast breeding plumage. Today, you can only very faintly see the orange hue in its breast feathers.
American Avocets have an usual technique for fishing. They capture aquatic invertebrates by swishing their long, up-curved bill from side to side, a signature behavior called scything. American Avocets eat a wide variety of invertebrates including midges, beetles, flies, fairy shrimp, amphipods, and small fish. They also eat the seeds from aquatic plants.
If you plan to see the Avocet, this exquisite beauty is easy to spot. Go to parking area #6, opposite Stage Island. If you don’t see a bunch of photographers to point the way, you can usually find it at the far curve, foraging at the Stage Island Pool, to the left side of the causeway to the Island. You can’t miss its striking black and white plumage as it is foraging in a mixed bunch of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. The crowds of birders and photographers are not in the least phasing the shorebirds as there is quite a good distance from where you are permitted to observe and where the birds are feeding and resting.
American Avocet Range Map
Photo of American Avocet in breeding plumage by Dan Pancamo – originally posted to Flickr as Quintana June 2nd 2010 courtesy wikicommons media
World Shorebirds Day, on Monday, September 6, is just around the bend. In honor of this annual global event, BirdsCaribbean created a new video to celebrate Caribbean shorebirds. From plump plovers to wave-catching Sanderlings to stately Stilt Sandpipers, shorebirds are delightful birds to get to know and love. Enjoy our short video and learn more about how you can help to conserve these treasures of our beaches and wetlands.
It is prime time to learn about and celebrate the diversity of shorebirds in the Caribbean. During late summer and early fall, our resident shorebirds, like the Killdeer and Wilson’s Plover, are joined by long-distance migrants, such as the Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, and many more. These migratory birds have just completed their breeding seasons, hopefully with much success, in the northern U.S. and Canada. Now, many are passing through the Caribbean, stopping to rest and feed as they travel to wintering areas further south. Other bird arrivals may stay with us for the entire winter.
Shorebirds are a diverse group of wading birds that live close to water—you can find them on our beaches, mangroves, marshes, salt ponds, and mudflats. Many can be easily identified by their long legs or unique bills, which are especially adapted to their diet and habitat. For example, the long, thin, probing bill of the Black-necked Stilt is ideal for plucking worms and crabs from sticky mud; while the Ruddy Turnstone, with his short, stubby bill, is adept at flipping over stones and shells to find tasty insects on the beach.
Migratory shorebirds make amazing journeys of thousands of kilometres! Beforehand, they need to store enough energy in the form of fat reserves to migrate. These small birds will eat until they are about double their normal weight. You may think that flying at their top weight would slow shorebirds down, but they are the marathon-winners of flight. Incredibly, this group of birds does not do any soaring, they are physically flapping the entire way!
Sadly, shorebird numbers have declined by roughly forty percent over the last 50 years, due to a number of threats. An increase in developments and various types of pollution have resulted in their habitats being degraded or even lost altogether. Human disturbance, hunting, and climate change…All these factors threaten shorebirds. Please join us this World Shorebirds Day to learn more about these fascinating birds and what you can do to help protect them.
Join the Global Shorebird Count, September 1 to 7 – every shorebird counts!
One of the main activities of World Shorebirds Day is the Global Shorebird Count. We encourage bird enthusiasts in the region to go out and count shorebirds from the 1st to 7th September 2021.
Your counts will help us to understand which species (and how many) are stopping to rest and feed in the Caribbean. This allows us to assess the health of populations and to determine whether they are increasing, decreasing, or stable. The data you collect will also help scientists to coordinate follow-up research and conservation actions, such as protecting important sites – or even taking immediate action to reduce threats to shorebirds and their environments, if necessary.
What a treat to happen upon this pair of yellow-legged shorebirds feasting on tiny invertebrates in the mudflats at Henry’s Pond.
The yellowlegs were foraging companionably alongside the Mallards, American Black Ducks, plovers, and Kildeers. I returned the following dawn and they had already departed for parts warmer. Perhaps we’ll see them again during their spring migration as they journey north to breed in the boreal bog forests of Canada and Alaska.
Lesser Yellowlegs Preening
Here on Cape Ann, we are fortunate to catch fleeting glimpses of species such as yellowlegs during the the great annual fall migration. The map below shows the boreal forest biome (biome is another word for ecosystem), which lies to the south of the tundra and the north of deciduous forests and grasslands. The ground in the boreal forest is damp and boggy because of snowmelt and little evaporation due to cooler summer temperatures. The moist ground and long day length at northerly latitudes during the summer makes for explosive plant growth–Think Bird Food!–not only in the wealth of plants, but myriad insects attracted!
I believe the pair to be Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). I am by no means a bird expert and imagine they could also possibly be Greater Yellowlegs. If any of our wonderful expert bird lovers would like to weigh on this, I would be grateful. Songbirds and shorebirds that I have filmed on Cape Ann are featured in my Monarch film and I am in the process of writing the script. I want to insure that all the bird identifications are 100 percent accurate..