Posted 27th Apr 2018
The elegant avocet was once a great rarity, yet now, it has received top billing on a number of coastal marshes
The avocet is the epitome of elegance - looking very dapper in black and white, it has a neat black cap and characteristic up-curved beak. Appearing on shallow coastal lagoons, estuaries and increasingly inland wetlands, avocets wade in the water, sweeping their beaks peacefully back and forth as they look to catch the small invertebrate life that makes up their diet - a picture of early summer calm and tranquillity.
However, appearances are deceptive. While the avocet may give the impression of being an elegant aristocrat, the startling truth is that he is a pugilistic bully. Once nesting has started, it takes very little to make one see red. A passing crow or harrier is likely to be mobbed by a gang of shrieking adults, dive bombing the predator until it retreats. Other waders are remorselessly chased off too - no redshank or oystercatcher will stand a chance when there’s a noisy nesting avocet around. Passing families of shelducks are also given short shrift too, with the angry avocets driving the unwitting intruders off, both adults and ducklings alike.
Always an uncommon bird, the avocet became extinct during the 19th century. A century later, parts of the east coast were flooded to create military defences during the Second World War and while the expected German invasion never materialised, avocets did, taking advantage of new wetlands to nest.
Conservation bodies, including The Wildlife Trusts, have managed to ensure the unmistakeable black and white wader has now become a firm addition to our coasts and wetlands, becoming a symbol of bird conservation.
How to do it
Time your visit for the start of June so you can get the best chance of seeing a newly hatched chick, little balls of mottled grey fluff tottering around on oversized blue feet, complete with upturned beak. Binoculars will be essential.
If you can't get to the special places listed below...
During their migration in April and May, avocets can turn up on gravel pits and wetlands anywhere, so keep your eyes peeled.
The UK's first successful inland breeding avocets are located in land-locked Worcestershire. Since 2003, avocets have returned to the saline Flashes pools at The Christopher Cadbury Wetland reserve at Upton Warren each spring to breed. Although you won't see their food, it is believed avocets mainly eat midge larvae - ongoing research has revealed that some of the midges and other invertebrate species at Upton Warren are rather rate in the UK and would be typically found in Africa and the Middle East. So, while you enjoy the graceful but feisty parents, you can ponder exactly how the midges managed to get here.
Cambridgeshire, Grafham Water
Essex, Blue House Farm (where birds usually nest in front of one of the hides)
Lincolnshire, Far Ings
Lincolnshire, Gibraltar Point
Norfolk, Cley Marshes
Norfolk, Hickling Broad
Rutland, Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Norfolk, Holme Dunes
Suffolk, Dingle Marshes
Sussex, Rye Harbour
Yorkshire, Kilnsea Wetlands
Yorkshire, North Cave Wetlands
Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts / image courtesy of © Neil Aldridge