I’m lucky to live near Morro Strand, so most mornings find me striding along the beach, binoculars at hand ready for anything that comes into view. A few days ago a striking trio of black and white birds flitted by and then settled for a few moments at the ocean’s edge before flitting off a short distance. Their long spindly pink legs immediately identified them as Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus)—the first I had ever seen along the beach in more than 25 years of strolling the strand.
I alerted several birding friends and Marlin Harms captured two of the trio later that morning. You will recognize these birds for their slim profile, needlelike bill, thin pink or red legs and striking black back contrasting with a white underbelly. If birds went to an opening night opera, the stilt’s tuxedo-like outfit would fit right in!
Typically you will see these winter visitors in the shallows of the estuary feasting on flies, other insects and small crustaceans. Stilts sometimes join flocks of American Avocets (Recurvirosta Americana), another long-legged wading bird with a slim bill that’s slightly upcurved. Pay attention to that bill as the avocet swooshes it from side to side in shallow water seeking aquatic insects. Avocets will also sport striking black and white plumage when they arrive here, but sometimes in spring just before leaving for northern breeding grounds they may begin to change to alternate plumage featuring a rusty orange head.
See if you can spot these seasonal visitors in the tidal flats of the estuary or other shallow waters. The boardwalk at Morro Bay State Park marina is a good place to look for many overwintering birds.