Avocets have long legs and long, thin, upcurved bills (giving their scientific name Recurvirostra) which they sweep from side to side when feeding in the brackish or saline wetlands they prefer. The plumage is pied, sometimes also with some red.
Members of this genus have webbed feet and readily swim. Their diet consists of aquatic insects and other small creatures. They nest on the ground in loose colonies. In estuarine settings they may feed on exposed bay muds or mudflats.
The pied avocet is the emblem of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The four species, all in the genus Recurvirostra, are:
Pied avocet, Recurvirostra avosetta
American avocet, Recurvirostra americana
Red-necked avocet, Recurvirostra novaehollandiae
Andean avocet, Recurvirostra andina
In a large colony they are aggressively defensive and chase off any other species of birds that try to nest among or near them. That causes the annoyed remark “Avocet: Exocet” from some British birdwatchers.