Two american avocets in breeding ritual
American avocets at Cheyenne Bottoms, near Great Bend, Kansas. © Tom Blandford

Stories in Kansas

American Avocet

June 2018 Shorebird of the Month.

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.
Robert Penner Cheyenne Bottoms and Avian Programs Manager, Kansas


Shorebird Watching

at Cheyenne Bottoms


The American Avocet might be considered the mascot of Cheyenne Bottoms. The Kansas Wetlands Education Center has this bird on their logo because the large and showy shorebird can be observed in large numbers during both spring and fall migration. Most years, a good number remain to breed during the summer. The large size, black wings and salmon-colored head and neck make it an easy bird to identify. Even during the hot, dry days of July and August, it is not unusual to find small groups of American Avocets feeding in the shallow water.

Fun Facts

It takes a village: females might lay eggs in another female's nest for incubation. This nest parasitism can go both ways: American avocets have been observed raising black-necked stilt hatchlings. 

In black & white: American avocets adults only have the orange/salmon pink head feathers during breeding season. From September through February they will appear gray or white, but you won't find them in Kansas then.

Charcoal drawing of an American avocet
American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) The large and showy American avocet can be observed in large numbers during both spring and fall migration at Cheyenne Bottoms in central Kansas. © Robert Penner/TNC


American avocets (Recurvirostra americana) can be found foraging or insects and crustaceans in both freshwater and saltwater wetlands. Look for them in areas of open, shallow water (3-8") and along shorelines in the western half of North America. They breed and nest in the western Great Plains (east of the Rocky Mountains and mostly west of Kansas) on bare, open ground close to the water. They winter in Mexico and Central America.


Low concern. Numbers appear to be increasing right now, thanks in part to mitigation requirements in California where selenium contamination had severely impacted breeding. Climate models show that the area suitable for American avocet nesting is likely to shrink in the future.


Abundant. Early spring migrants start arriving mid-March. With around 15,000 avocets every year make them an almost guaranteed sight mid-April to mid-May  Generally a common summer resident through mid-August but only at Cheyenne Bottoms. It would be atypical to see an American avocets in other parts of Kansas during the summer.


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Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD