Avocets in East Devon


You can see Avocets feeding on small crustaceans and insects along the edge of the tide in the Exe Estuary during January and February. They’re easy to spot because of their distinctive black and white plumage.

These beautiful waders are the symbol of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds [RSPB]. At one time they were extinct in the British Isles but now, thanks to the efforts of dedicated conservationists they are regular winter visitors.

I recently enjoyed a three-hour bird watching cruise on the Exe Estuary to see these amazing birds, along with a whole host of other winter visitors to the Estuary. Our guide explained to us that Avocets have a specially shaped, upturned beak, which allows them to feed on small creatures in the mud.

They can only feed in mud that is "runny" for want of a better word, so the Exe Estuary is the perfect place for them. There’s a huge area of brackish mud flats that is exposed at low tide and in the winter you can see hundreds of them spread out along the edge of the tide busily foraging for food. They sweep their bills from side to side in water to catch tiny creatures.

Adults have white plumage except for a black cap and black patches in the wings and on the back. They have long, upturned bills and long, bluish legs. Juvenile birds are brown where the adult is black, and the juvenile's white plumage is often blotched with greyer patches.

Their breeding habitat is in shallow lakes with brackish water and bare mud exposed. They nest on open ground, often in small groups, sometimes with other waders. 3-5 eggs are laid in a lined scrape or on a mound of vegetation. A few pairs nest in East Anglia but the majority prefer the Netherlands for breeding and spend the winter in Devon.

Find out more about the bird watching cruise that I went on by going to the Stuart Line Cruises website. They only run bird watching cruises in the winter but there's lots of enjoyable trips all year round.

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