Breeding American Avocets

Spring is in the air, and so is the reproductive instinct of many local bird species. I had the opportunity recently to photograph an American avocet pair copulating, and was able to record the interesting mating dance that occurred immediately afterward. Remaining monogamous throughout the breeding season, this pair will soon likely select a local nest site, or migrate north to nest (avocets are both migratory and year-round residents of the SF bay area).

The female avocet signals that she's ready to receive the male by standing with her head close to the water with the beak straight out in front
The female avocet signals that she's ready to receive the male by standing with her head close to the water with the beak straight out in front. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1: 1/800 sec. at f/8

As they begin, the female signals to the male that she’s ready by standing alert with her head low and forward, close to the water. The male stands next to his mate, or directly behind her.

The male avocet mounts the female from behind. The act of copulation lasts only a few seconds.
The male avocet mounts the female from behind. The act of copulation lasts only a few seconds. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1: 1/800 sec. at f/8

In one quick motion, the males jumps up onto the female’s back. Breeding only lasts a few seconds, during which time the male flaps his wings repeatedly. Just as quickly, he jumps down again.

Immediately after copulation, the avocets cross beaks. Holding them in this position, they walk in a tight circle two or three times.
Immediately after copulation, the avocets cross beaks. Holding them in this position, they walk in a tight circle two or three times. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1: 1/640 sec. at f/8

Immediately after copulation, the avocets turn toward each other and cross beaks. Each bill rests against the other’s neck, with the male standing slightly taller than the female. Holding this position, they walk in several tight circles.

Soon after the avocet pair copulates, they promenade side-by-side in a straight line
Soon after the avocet pair copulates, they promenade side-by-side in a straight line. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1: 1/800 sec. at f/8

Once the circles are completed, they march off together side-by-side. I always find it fascinating to watch these intricate rituals that have developed over thousands of years.

Rising out of the water, an american avocet flaps its wings to dry them off.
Rising out of the water, an american avocet flaps its wings in the air. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3: 1/1600 sec. at f/7.1