Ian’s Bird of the Week – Black-winged Stilt

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Black-winged Stilt ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter ~ 3/30/14

A few weeks ago, I included a photo of the Black Stilt of New Zealand in a piece on Black-fronted Tern, so I was surprised to find out that no other stilt has ever featured as bird of the week. That’s a serious omission given the spectacular appearance of all the members of this family, the Avocets and Stilts, Recurvirostridae, so here are three variants of the almost global Black-winged Stilt, starting with the one we get in Australasia, often called the White-headed Stilt.

There is disagreement over whether the various version of the Black-winged Stilt are species or merely sub-species. Some taxonomists, none naturally from New Zealand, have even dared to suggest that the Black Stilt is a mere subspecies too, as it sometimes hybridises with the White-headed which colonised New Zealand in the 19th century. The tendency now is to settle on four closely related species, the Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) the nominate Eurasian and African Black-winged (H. himantopus), the Australasian White-headed (H. leucocephalus) the American (North and South) Black-necked (H. mexicanus). As we’ll see shortly, the English names are almost as confusing as the taxonomy as they all have black wings, two have white faces and two have black necks.

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) by Ian

As a teenager in Ireland in the 1960s, browsing my Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe – which I have in front of me at the moment – birds like Avocets and Stilts seemed unbelievably exotic. The iconic Pied Avocet was, and still is, the poster child of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds following its successful reestablishment as a breeding species in Britain. I saw Pied Avocets in the RSPB Reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk in 1965 and American Avocets in Wyoming in 1970, but it wasn’t until I arrived in Sydney in 1971 that I saw my first Stilt and was amazed to find how widespread and abundant the White-headed is. Almost too much, as these are noisy birds and almost as much of a nuisance as Common Redshanks are in Ireland when you’re trying to stalk shy waders.

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) by Ian

I eventually encountered the nominate Black-winged in Zimbabwe in 1992 and again in Portugal in 2007. The female (very little black on the head) one in the third photo is being very vocal and making it quite clear that I am very unwelcome. This time at least she had very good reason for being aggressive as it had four newly-hatched chicks close by, wandering around looking rather bewildered, fourth photo (the fourth chick was farther to the left). Male nominate race birds have more but varying degrees of black on the head and neck, adding to the general confusion.

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) by Ian

Finally, fifth photo, here is the American version, the Black-necked. It has a black cap joined fore and aft by a curved band through the eye leaving a white spot above the eye, creating a bullseye effect. It’s showing us why stilts have such long legs and that needle-sharp bill is perfect for delicately snatching small items of prey from the surface of the water.

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus mexicanus) by Ian

There are photos of all the Stilts and Avocet, except the poorly known Andean Avocet, here: http://www.birdway.com.au/recurvirostridae/index.htm.

This is a slightly hurried bird of the week, as I’m leaving for Cairns later today. We’ve had a late end to the wet season after a dry false alarm earlier in the month and I want to take more location photos for the book Where to find Birds in Northeast Queensland now that the weather has improved.


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

Lee’s Addition:

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly and swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly over the earth in the open expanse of the heavens. (Genesis 1:20 AMP)

All three of these “black-winged” Stilts are very pretty. I like the clean lines on them. Thanks, Ian, for sharing these with us.

Our American Black-necked Stilt, which I have had the privilege of seeing several times, has a neat white eye-brow. You can tell they all belong to the same family – the Recurvirostridae – Stilts, Avocets. This family has 10 in it and Ian has 8 species photographed on his site.

I am still amazed at the variety of birds the Lord has created.


Ian’s Recurvirostridae – Stilts, Avocets Family

Recurvirostridae – Stilts, Avocets Family

Recurvirostridae – Wikipedia (They show only 9, but the White-backed Stilt is now a species)



Birds Vol 2 #1 – The American Avocet

American Avocet - Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

American Avocet – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897 From col. F. M. Woodruff



HITE SNIPE, Yelper, Lawyer, and Scooper are some of the popular names applied in various localities to this remarkably long-legged and long and slender-necked creature, which is to be found in temperate North America, and, in winter, as far south as Cuba and Jamaica. In north-eastern Illinois the Avocet generally occurs in small parties the last of April and the first of May, and during September and the early part of October, when it frequents the borders of marshy pools. The bird combines the characteristics of the Curlew and the Godwit, the bill being recurved.

The cinnamon color on the head and neck of this bird varies with the individual; sometimes it is dusky gray around the eye, especially in the younger birds.

The Avocet is interesting and attractive in appearance, without having any especially notable characteristics. He comes and goes and is rarely seen by others than sportsmen.

american avocet. From col. F. M. Woodruff.


AMERICAN AVOCET.Recurvirostra americana. Other names: “White Snipe,” “Yelper,” “Lawyer,” “Scooper.”

Range—Temperate North America.

Nest—A slight depression in the ground.

Eggs—Three or four; pale olive or buffy clay color, spotted with chocolate.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) by Jim Fenton

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) by Jim Fenton

Lee’s Addition:

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3 KJV)

The American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) is a large wader in the avocet and stilt family, Recurvirostridae. This avocet has long, thin, gray legs, giving it its colloquial name, “blue shanks”. The plumage is black and white on the back with white on the underbelly. The neck and head are cinnamon colored in the summer and gray in the winter. The long, thin bill is upturned at the end. The adult bird measures 16–20 in (40–51 cm) in length, 27–30 in (68–76 cm) and 9.7–15 oz (275–420 g) in weight.

The breeding habitat is marshes, beaches, prairie ponds, and shallow lakes in the mid-west and on the Pacific coast of North America. American avocets form breeding colonies numbering dozens of pairs. When breeding is over the birds gather in large flocks, sometimes including hundreds of birds. Nesting occurs near water, usually on small islands or boggy shorelines where access by predators is difficult. The female lays four eggs in a saucer-shaped nest, and both sexes take turns incubating them. Upon hatching, the chicks feed themselves; they are never fed by their parents. They can walk, swim, and even dive within 24 hours of hatching.

This species is migratory, and mostly winters on the southern Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Mexico and the United States.

The American Avocet forages in shallow water or on mud flats, often sweeping its bill from side to side in water as it seeks its crustacean and insect prey.

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial that was started in January 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Canvas-Back Duck

The Previous Article – The Mallard Duck

ABC’s Of The Gospel


Recurvirostridae – Stilts, Avocets

American Avocet – All About Birds

American Avocet – Wikipedia


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Black Stilt

Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 1 by Ian

Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 1 by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Black Stilt ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 11/15/11

You’ve done it again! Your collective goodwill and spiritual energy have provided yet another special, this time very special bird, the critically endangered and recently saved from extinction Black Stilt. I did have to do a little work as well to find a couple in their favoured habitat of often inaccessible, so-called braided rivers of the South Island. At the second potential site, see photo, the task seemed impossible – that’s all river bed between the foreground and the mountains – and I almost gave up.

Tasman River by Ian

Tasman River by Ian

The third site wasn’t any better, but the fourth and last was a bridge over another river and you could have knocked me over with a feather when, having just stepped onto the bridge, I spotted two Black Stilts feeding a couple of hundred meters away close to the river bank.
One flew away when I approached but the other was much more cooperative and continued feeding.
Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 2 by Ian

Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 2 by Ian

Eventually it flew off too, but it landed not far away, close to a breeding colony of 3 or 4 pairs of Black-fronted Terns, another species on my wanted list.
Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 3 by Ian

Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 3 by Ian

It stayed for a little while longer, until the terns chased it off. If you look carefully in the last photo, you can see a coloured band on the right leg and bird is presumably one of the captive-bred and released birds.
Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 4 by Ian

Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) 4 by Ian

The population of Black Stilts in the wild reached a low of 23 adults in 1981 when the program started, making it the rarest wading bird in the world. There are now probably 200 birds in the wild and the program continues. Lets keep our fingers crossed!
I’ve had a great time so far in New Zealand and yesterday I went on a successful boat trip on Milford Sound in lovely weather for another wanted species, another potential bird of the week. I’m now on my way back to Christchurch to return my splendid campervan – I shall be reluctant to return it.
Best wishes

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: 0411 602 737 +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:

Glad to see the Lord answers prayers. (See Addition –  NZ/Australasian Shoveler) What a neat bird, glad you found it and didn’t give up. With them so few in numbers, that is a Great Catch!

I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. (Proverbs 8:17 KJV)

The Black Stilt is in the Recurviostridae Family of the Charadriiformes Order. There are 6 Stilts and 4 Avocets. Check out Ian’s Recurviostridae photos.

“Avocets and stilts range in length from 30 to 46 centimetres (12 to 18 in) and in weight from 140 to 435 grams (4.9 to 15.3 oz); males are usually slightly bigger than females.[1] All possess long, thin legs, necks, and bills. The bills of avocets are curved upwards, and are swept from side to side when the bird is feeding in the brackish or saline wetlands they prefer. The bills of stilts, in contrast, are straight. The front toes are webbed, partially in most stilts, fully in avocets and the Banded Stilt, which swim more. The majority of species’ plumage has contrasting areas of black and white, with some species having patches of buff or brown on the head or chest. The sexes are similar.” (Wikipedia)

Happy Birthday – Skippy at National Aviary

Black-necked Stilt - Skippy

"Skippy" - Black-necked Stilt

Today is the 23rd birthday of “Skippy” the Black-necked Stilt. We met him on Friday at the National Aviary in Pittsburg, PA. Dan and I had the privilege of visiting  the National Aviary recently and thoroughly enjoyed our two days we spent there. “Skippy” is not on exhibit, but is behind the scenes and well taken care of by the hospital staff.

We were given some very special treatment at the Aviary and were allowed to see several of their “behind-the-scenes” operations. The hospital, breeding room, kitchen, an outdoor exhibit (closed right now) and other places were shown. I am thankful for meeting the “bird nurse” the day before our visit at a book store. I was looking at the bird books (of course) when I met Sarah. Long story short, she told us that she would show us around and did she ever. This is just the first of the articles to be written about the Aviary.

National Aviary Hospital Sign

National Aviary Hospital

We were in the Hospital section where the older birds are kept. These are ones who have been active in shows or have just been there a long time and are sort of in their “geriatric” stage of life. The birds there are kept comfortable and their health is maintained as well as can be. They are all very special and each had a story attached to them. I sort of felt right a home in there, since I have my fair share of aches and pains as I age.

We met “Skippy” who is kept in an area that has a fence (around it to create a pen). I may not get all the details right (I’m getting old, remember), but when his life long mate died, he wanted to give up and was very sad. That caused his health to deteriorate and he ended up in the “hospital.”  In memory of his sweetheart, they had painted a mural on the wall. One day he discovered the painting of his mate and parked right there beside it. His health started improving. They decided to put a fence around that area and that is where we found him the other day.

Today is Skippy’s birthday and he turns 23. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SKIPPY! He is one of the longest known living Black-necked Stilts. The photo shows him beside the painting of his mate and a part of his pen. There is a mirror hanging there which he love to look in.

Black-necked Stilt at Circle B Bar Reserve

Black-necked Stilt at Circle B Bar Reserve by Lee

Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) are in Recurvirostridae Family which includes Avocets and Stilts. There are only 11 species in the family. They are in the Charadriiformes Order. This Stilt is a locally abundant shorebird of American wetlands and coastlines. We see them quite frequently around our area. I saw my first one in 2000 in the Rockport, TX.

“Adults have long pink legs and a long thin black bill. They are white below and have black wings and backs. The tail is white with some grey banding. A continuous area of black extends from the back along the hindneck to the head. There, it forms a cap covering the entire head from the top to just below eye-level, with the exception of the areas surrounding the bill and a small white spot above the eye. Males have a greenish gloss to the back and wings, particularly in the breeding season. This is less pronounced or absent in females, which have a brown tinge to these areas instead. Otherwise, the sexes look alike. (From Wikipedia)

They usually have 3-5 young and both of them take turn incubating the eggs for 22-26 days. The young can be swimming within 2 hours of birth. Check out the Aviary’s webpage on the Black-necked Stilt for more information about it.

Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven? (Job 35:11)

Is it wrong to be sad when someone dies? I think Skippy was only showing his love and concern for the bird he had spent so much time with.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him (Lazarus)? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! (John11:33-36)