Take a walk along the beachfront at Walvis Bay and one of the most distinctive and easily recognizable birds to be seen wading in the shallow water is the black-and-white Pied Avocet. Appropriately named “Avocette élégante” in French, this elegant bird with its delicate upturned bill is often seen walking slowly forward across the mudflats with its head lowered as it scythes its bill from side to side through the shallow water in search of crustaceans, insects, insect larvae and small fish.
In slightly deeper they will feed in an upturned position and will move forward more slowly.
The dark grey upturned bill has given the Avocet the first half of its binomial – Recurvirostra avosetta – and also the old English name by which the bird is still sometimes known, the “Cobbler’s awl”.
Although monogamous, Avocets are gregarious birds and aggregations of more than 1000 birds have been reported in the Walvis Bay – Sandwich Harbour region. It is widely distributed throughout Namibia and also many other parts of the world. It favours shallow inland vleis and dams, and coastal estuaries and lagoons, which suits its characteristic style of feeding. They nest on open ground, often close to the water’s edge, sometimes in the company of other waders, laying 3-5 eggs in a shallow scrape in the mud.
The males and females have similar distinctive pied colouring when fully grown these medium sized waders are 42-45 cm long, including the bill of around 8 cm and legs of about 8 cm, and they have a wingspan of approximately 80 cm.
To watch a pair of Pied Avocets flying in tandem past the sand dunes of Sandwich Harbour, their shadows racing over the rippled sand below them, is a treat for anyone with the slightest interest in birding.
The Pied Avocet is the emblem of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.