Victor Harbor writer Ann Somerville-Charles on the upturned bill

Until I started birdwatching on the Fleurieu Peninsula, I was unaware of the richness and diversity of Australia’s birdlife. Over the last eight years, it has been a privilege to become acquainted with so many new species. One of these new species has become a particular favourite of mine: the red-necked avocet.

The red-necked avocet is an elegant long-legged wading bird of 40cms to 48cms with a rich chestnut-brown head and neck, white eye ring and long slender upturned black bill. Its body is white, except for two black stripes on the back. The wings are white with black bars and tips. During flight, its long pale blue-grey legs trail behind. The feet are webbed.

The red-necked avocet belongs to a family of birds known as Recurvirostridae. Other members of this family include the banded stilt and the black-winged stilt. Birds in this family are characterised by their very long legs.

Red-necked avocets use their upturned bills to sweep through shallow water and mud for food. Unlike many wading birds, they submerge and swim easily. This allows them to feed in deeper water. Their diet consists of aquatic creatures. During the breeding season, red-necked avocets often nest in loose colonies. Nests are built on the ground near water or on platforms in shallow water. When calling, they yelp, toot and wheeze.

Red-necked avocets are endemic (native) to Australia and are fairly common in most regions except Tasmania and Cape York Peninsula. They are nomadic birds that move around in small flocks. Their habitat is fresh and saltwater wetlands. I regularly see small groups of them along the shoreline of the Murray River between the Goolwa barrage and Beacon 19 boat ramp. On some occasions, they are in the company of black-winged stilts.

Written by Ann Somerville-Charles (artist, composer and poet) of Victor Harbor.