Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] American Avocet, also known as the Blueshank, Recurvirostra americana, photographed at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, Houston, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 6 June 2007 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/640s f/8.0 at 500.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.


This bird has a peculiarly-shaped beak.

  1. Can you tell me the technical (ornithological) term that describes this bird’s beak shape?
  2. An upward-curving bill is referred to as “recurved.”

  3. What does this bird’s beak shape tell you about its feeding behaviors?
  4. Avocets use two feeding methods. In clear water, avocets wade into water and feed by sight by picking prey from the surface of water or mud, using its long, thin beak like tweezers. In poor visibility and when locating prey from within the sediments, they forage by touch, sweeping the long, upcurved bill from side to side through water or loose sediment to locate hidden prey.

    In deeper water, avocets swim and up-end like a duck to reach food below the surface. At times large feeding flocks will assemble to feed cooperatively on animals such as shrimps on the edge of a rising tide.

  5. Does this beak shape tell you what sort of diet this bird has?
  6. The primary food is invertebrates, especially crustaceans and worms. In fresh water they also take insects found on the surface or within the top layers of the bottom sediments.

  7. Can you name any other bird species that have a similar upward curving beak shape?
  8. Three congeners; Pied Avocet, Recurvirostra avosetta, Red-necked Avocet, Recurvirostra novaehollandiae, and the Andean Avocet, Recurvirostra andina. Another shorebird; Terek Sandpiper, Xenus cinereus, and a passerine, the Recurve-billed Bushbird, Clytoctantes alixii.

Review all mystery birds to date.

Comments

  1. #1 Adrian
    May 7, 2010

    It’s the emblem of the RSPB that’s gone rusty in the rain! The bill shape suggests it has run into a wall.

  2. #2 dana
    May 7, 2010

    Question for everyone . . . . as the oil slicks begin to hit the US coastal shores, how does one go about volunteering to be a bird cleaner?

    I’m having difficulty with my google search and could use help as far as pointing me in the right direction to be part of a volunteer team. . . . if and when such teams are needed

    please email me at dana.barbush@yahoo.com

  3. #3 Mrs Grackle
    May 7, 2010

    That there’s an avocet! I know because I’ve seen them a jillion times. But the upcurved bill is his hallmark.

  4. #4 blf
    May 7, 2010

    Can you tell me the technical (ornithological) term that describes this bird’s beak shape?

    Bent.

    What does this bird’s beak shape tell you about its feeding behaviors?

    Either: It spends a lot of time in the pub and then collides with things on its way home.
    Or: The God of Evolution screwed its beak on the wrong way up (maybe that‘s who spent too much time in the pub?).

    Does this beak shape tell you what sort of diet this bird has?

    Either the food or the bird is upside-down when it eats.

    Can you name any other bird species that have a similar beak shape?

    The Lessor Jabberwocky.

  5. #5 Bardiac
    May 7, 2010

    1. I think the technical term for the upturned beak is “recurved.” The genus name is “Recurvirostra (according to the Cornell About Birds site, which is what I have access to in my office). “Rostra” has to do with beaks in Latin, I think.

    2/3. I think it’s a poke and feel in soft sand/mud sort of feeding behavior. It pokes down and feels for bugs and tiny critters. Yum!

    4. I think Marbled Godwits also have recurved beaks?

    ps. What a gorgeous picture! I love these!

  6. #6 Pete Moulton
    May 7, 2010

    Thank you, blf. You’ve given me the laugh of the day.

  7. #7 psweet
    May 7, 2010

    Bardiac, you nailed qns. 1 and 4, but the feeding style is rather different. Actually, flamingos could be seen as a clue here.

  8. #8 psweet
    May 9, 2010

    American Avocets (like this one) actually sweep their bill from side to side just below the surface, picking out small insects, etc. from the water column. Flamingos have a similarly shaped bill (it’s bent downwards, but they feed with their head upside down) and they filter water through their mouth, straining out brine shrimp and the like.