Black Necked Stilts


I recently added the black necked stilt to my bird life list.  A friend informed me that she had seen a pair with four young at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge north of Upham recently.  So I had to take a look, and sure enough, I was fortunate to see all of them along the margin of one of the pools on the Souris River near highway 14.

Black necked stilts are large (13-15 inch long) shorebirds.  They are close relatives of the more common avocet, and have interesting markings.  Their back, back of the neck, and head are black while the underparts, throat, face and patch above the eye are white.  Like the avocet, their black bill is slightly curved upward.  And those legs!  They have long, skinny reddish to pink legs.  Those legs rank second only to flamingos in length proportionally to body length.  It is easy to see why they are called “stilts.”

As you might expect with a shorebird, black necked stilts nest on the ground near water and feed on a variety of invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks.  Historically their nesting range was the western United States west of the Rockies, for example around the Great Salt Lake, the Gulf Coast and up the eastern seaboard, the Caribbean, Central America, and portions of South America.

Robert Stewart did not list the species in his Breeding Birds of North Dakota (1975).  A quick search of the North Dakota Birding Society’s discussion archives showed sightings as far back as 2000 near Harwood.  Since that time there have been several sightings from across the state, including Alice Waterfowl Production Area, Devils Lake and Stump Lake, Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge, McKenzie Slough, and Bowman, Dickey, Grand Forks, Logan, Richland, Sargent, and Stutsman counties.


Black necked stilts also showed up in Montana back in the 1970’s.  More recently they turned up in Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh.  No doubt there are other new locations as well.  It appears that black necked stilts are expanding its nesting range into our region.  This is another interesting example of how the range of a species can change.


Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.





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