Monday Bird of the Week No.49 – Avocet


This week’s Bird of the Week is a bird of such style, elegance, and grace that no less than Chris Packham called it ‘the Audrey Hepburn’ of birds. It is also a bird that is literally iconic, given it’s the logo for the RSPB. It is of course the Avocet.

The first time I tried to see an Avocet was somewhere around the mid 1980s at Blacktoft Sands. At the time it was still a very rare bird, though it was recovering after once being extinct in the UK. But there were still only a handful of birds there, and across the entire site we saw…zero. It was always a long shot.

Move on around twenty years, I’m living in Lancashire, and visit WWT Martin Mere, where I see at least fifty birds. Some years it can be as many as a hundred there. It’s not just Martin Mere. At sites like Blacktoft and North Cave back home in Yorkshire, I know if I go along in Spring I will see Avocets. It’s a remarkable turnaround, and bodies such as the WWT and RSPB get huge credit here for managing this.

As you know I’m generally a little uncomfortable with the compromises that often accompany animals elevated to conservation icons (such as the Giant Panda and the WWF). But in this case, the focus worked. Not only that, managing habitat for Avocets benefits a whole host of other animals. This is iconoclasm done well.

As for its graceful reputation, it’s well deserved. Any photo of an Avocet somehow looks like a watercolour painting instead. Watching them probe the water with that elegant sweeping motion, all long neck and long legs…Packham’s comparison may be inadequate.

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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