The four species of avocets /ˈævəsɛt/ are a genus, Recurvirostra, of waders in the same avian family as the stilts. The genus name comes from Latin recurvus, "curved backwards" and rostrum, "bill".[1] The common name is thought to derive from the Italian (Ferrarese) word avosetta. Francis Willughby in 1678 noted it as the "Avosetta of the Italians".[2]

Pied avocet
(Recurvirostra avosetta)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Recurvirostridae
Genus: Recurvirostra
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Recurvirostra avosetta
Linnaeus, 1758
  • Recurvirostra avosetta
  • Recurvirostra americana
  • Recurvirostra novaehollandiae
  • Recurvirostra andina


Avocets have long legs and they sweep their long, thin, upcurved bills from side to side when feeding in the brackish or saline wetlands they prefer. The plumage is pied, sometimes also with some red.

Members of this genus have webbed feet and readily swim. Their diet consists of aquatic insects and other small creatures.

They nest on the ground in loose colonies. In estuarine settings they may feed on exposed bay muds or mudflats.

The pied avocet is the emblem of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.


The four species, all in the genus Recurvirostra, are:

ImageNameCommon nameDistribution
Recurvirostra americanaAmerican avocetCentral/Western United States, Southern Florida, Mexico, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
Recurvirostra andinaAndean avocetArgentina, western Bolivia, northern Chile and southern Peru.
Recurvirostra avosettaPied avocettemperate Europe and western and Central Asia
Recurvirostra novaehollandiaeRed-necked avocetAustralia

There is one fossil species: Recurvirostra sanctaneboulae Mourer-Chauviré, 1978 from the late Eocene of France.

In a large colony they are aggressively defensive and chase off any other species of birds that try to nest among or near them. That causes the annoyed remark "Avocet: Exocet" from some British birdwatchers.[3]

They had been extirpated in Britain for a long time because of land reclamation of their habitat and persecution by skin and egg collectors, but during or soon after World War II started breeding on reclaimed land near the Wash which was returned to salt marsh to make difficulties for any landing German invaders. Avocets use Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve as a summer breeding ground.[4]


  1. Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. Swann, H. Kirke (1913). A dictionary of English and folk-names of British Birds. London: Witherby and Co. p. 9.
  3. BBC TV 1 program The One Show, 7–7:30 p.m. 16 January 2008
  4. "Cottage Hide". www.hants.gov.uk. Retrieved 3 June 2019.