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Large numbers now seen in Poole Harbour in winter but scarce elsewhere in Dorset.

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

I have a soft spot for the avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)! I try not to have favourites in nature believing that all creatures and plants are beautiful in their own way as part of the rich diversity of life our world currently offers us but, that said, the avocet has to be one of my 'top ten birds'. When I started birding back in the 1970s the avocet was uncommon in the south of England, indeed rare, and I still recall seeing my first avocet in 1981 in Pagham harbour in Sussex. Thankfully they are now almost common place in Dorset coastal areas in winter with large numbers, well over 500, to be seen gathered together in feeding flocks on exposed mudflats at low tide.

Whilst they are seen on the Fleet and in Christchurch harbour the main wintering population is to be be found in Poole harbour; reports from other sites would tend to be birds on the move as they do not appear to generate reports other than just one off casual records every now and again.

As with many waders we may think that they can only be seen in Dorset in winter and yet the weekly chart shows records for the avocet from virtually every week of the year and that is because a couple of pairs have nested on Brownsea Island in recent years and have hatched young but unfortunately due to predation the young have not fully fledged and reached adulthood. Hopefully some way of protecting the chicks will be found and a regular breeding colony in Poole harbour can be established. If that does not happen it will not be for the lack of trying I am sure so I wish those involved in trying to bring this about every success in their endeavours but it will not be easy.

The bulk of the incoming winter population seem to arrive from about week 36 at the end of September and numbers start to reach their peak by November. In spring the bulk of the birds have gone by the end of March or early April. 

To add avocet to your life list just go to the RSPB Arne reserve and walk out onto Coombe Heath to the hide or the viewing screen and at low tide you will see hundreds of these elegant, beautiful birds. Wait for them to be disturbed and see them take off almost together as one in a wonderful mass of black and white. If you can get a winter boat to Brownsea Island then you can see them close up right outside the hides, this is also true if you go early or very late in the season when the boats are running daily.


Avocet: welcome back

Common Name Avocet
Scientific Name Recurvirostra avosetta
Species Group Birds Other Waders
Status Locally frequent
Interest Level
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
Look for

A black and white bird with a unique up turned bill

Identification Notes
  • Once very scarce but now a  thousand or so over winter in Poole Harbour
  • A small number are attempting to breed on Brownsea Island but so far without success due to nest predation 
  • Unmistakable being the only wader with an upcurved bill and blue legs  
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Other Waders