Recurvirostra americana

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant west and central, fairly common east.  Uncommon, locally common, regular breeder west and north-central, rare casual elsewhere.

Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM6614, 17 Jun 1902 Clear Lake, Cherry Co.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized.

Spring:  Apr 3, 4, 4 <<<>>> summer

Migrants arrive in early to mid-Apr and peak numbers occur at the end of Apr. Earlier dates are 18 Mar 2017 Sheridan Co, 29 Mar 2020 Seward Co, 29 Mar 2021 two Gavin’s Point Dam area, Cedar Co, 31 Mar 2020 Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co, and 31 Mar 2020 Marsh Wren Wetlands, Lancaster Co.

Migrants, or possibly immature non-breeders, linger into Jun and early Jul; mid-Jun through early Jul reports are of one at LaPlatte Bottoms, Sarpy Co 13-17 Jun 2020, up to three a few miles northwest of Grand Island, Hall Co 13 Jun-7 Jul 2020, 19 Jun 1988 Pierce Co, and one at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 27 Jun 2020.

High counts: 600-700 near Niobrara, Knox Co 25 Apr 2013, 354 in the eastern Rainwater Basin (including 106 at a Seward Co location) 30 Apr 2010, and 303 in Sarpy Co 30 Apr 2010.

Summer: This species breeds regularly in the western Sandhills east to Cherry Co in the north (Ducey 1988) and westward at least to Scotts Bluff and Dawes Cos; there were 45 nests at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co 9 Jun 2007. In Scotts Bluff Co breeding occurs regularly at Kiowa WMA; at least three pairs produced young in 2003 and seven broods were noted in 2004. At Mansfield Marsh, Dawes Co, 12 adults with at least two chicks were present 13 Jun 1998.

There are several nesting reports in areas adjacent to this core range. A nest at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 19 Jun 2017, when 42 adults were present, was the first known nesting record there. Two or three pairs were nesting at a cattle feedlot pond near Darr, Dawson Co 2 and 5 Jul 2009. The easternmost nesting in the north occurs on artificial islands at the west end of Lewis and Clark Lake, Knox Co, that were constructed to provide nesting habitat for Piping Plovers and Least Terns.  Nesting was first noted there in 2007 (one nest) and subsequently in 2012 (two nests), 2013 (four nests) and 2014 (one nest) (K. Hunt, personal communication).  A nest with four eggs was photographed at Twin Lakes WMA, Rock Co 22 Jun 2016.

There are a few nesting records from the Rainwater Basin but breeding success has been elusive. Two nests and young were reported in Phelps Co in 1974 (Bennett 1975) and nesting was “confirmed” at Clay Co sites during 1984-89 (Mollhoff 2001, Jorgensen 2012) and 2006-2011 (Mollhoff 2016, Jorgensen 2012). Two pairs at Harvard WPA, Clay Co 30 May 2005 had one nest but no eggs; three pairs were nesting there 3 Jun 2008. Two nests, each with four eggs, were at Hultine WPA, Clay Co 31 May 2008, but these were apparently unsuccessful (Jorgensen 2012).  Copulation was observed at Trumbull Basin, Clay Co 3 May 2010.  In 2019, an exceptionally wet summer, there were three breeding attempts, but all failed (Jorgensen and Brenner 2019). Two nests photographed at Sora WMA, Fillmore Co 18 May 2019 were the first for Fillmore Co, but, unfortunately, heavy rains flooded the nests about a week afterwards.  Another nest was photographed on private property approximately a mile north of Mallard Haven WPA, also in Fillmore Co, on 13 Jun 2019 but was unsuccessful. Two two nests with eggs on private property approximately a mile south of Harvard WPA, Clay Co on 19 Jun 2019 may have been unsuccessful also; the wetland had dried up by 24 Jul with no avocets present.

Elsewhere, east and south of the Rainwater Basin, one was in Saunders Co 22 Jun 2011, two were in Lancaster Co 25 Jun 2018, and two were in western Douglas Co 29 Jun 1998.

  •  Breeding Phenology:
    Copulation: 2 May 2002
    Eggs/Incubation: 22 May-1 Jul
    Young:  25 May.
  • High counts: 270 at Crescent Lake NWR 16 Jul 1996 (Grzybowski 1996), 56 there 8 Jul 1997, and 56 at Lakeside, Sheridan Co 16 Jun 2013.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Nov 6, 7, 7

Migrants away from breeding areas are evident in early-mid Jul: singles were at Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co and near Orleans, Harlan Co, both on 6 Jul 2000, nine were at Scottsbluff SL, Scotts Bluff Co 7 Jul 2016, and one was in Sarpy Co 13 Jul 2014. Peak numbers occur in mid-Sep.

There are later reports of six on 10 Nov 2010 Lancaster Co, 20 in Sheridan Co 13 Nov 2013 and one at Lake McConaughy 28 Nov and 5 Dec 1998, possibly an injured bird.

  • High counts: 1100 in the western Sandhills 5 Sep 2012 (including 654 at one location), 1020 in Sheridan Co 21 Sep 2014, 645 at Lakeside, Sheridan Co 23 Sep 2013, and 643 there 16 Sep 2007.


SL: Sewage Lagoons
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)

Literature Cited

Bennett, E.V. 1975. 1974 Nebraska nesting survey. NBR 43: 13-19.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Jorgensen, J.G., and S.J. Brenner. 2019. Notable avian nesting records from the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska — 2019. Nongame Bird Program of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 1 Jun 2021