avocet (ăvˈəsĕt) [key], common name for a long-legged wading bird about 15 to 18 in. (37.5–45 cm) long, related to the snipe and belonging to the same family as the stilt. The American avocet or blacknecked stilt, Himantopus mexicanus, and the Australian avocet have black and white bodies and brown heads; the African and Eurasian species are black and white and are strikingly visible at distances. Avocets, like stilts, are wetland inhabitants. By sweeping their long, thin, upwardly curved bills through shallow water and mud, they capture small water animals, such as crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, fishes, and insects; other insects are caught on the wing. Avocets have shrill calls, but also have a soft flutelike song. They breed gregariously. The female lays from three to five eggs per clutch in a shallow depression in the ground, which may be lined with small stones and grass. Avocets are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Charadriiformes, family Recurvirostridae.

See P. Ehrlich et al., Birders Handbook (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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