Black-necked Stilt courtship activity

David Lawrence


In follow-up to Kaaren Perry’s (and others') description of Black-necked Stilt courtship activity in the western-most tidal pond along Turri Road, I visited there yesterday (Monday), and report ongoing behavior.

When I first saw them, one was standing on the small, central island and the other foraging.  They continued widely separate foraging for perhaps 20 minutes, then the male moved to the island, probed and plucked at its vegetation, and then waded several feet away, pulling up sheets of the bottom “scum” and tossing them back toward the island.  That sequence suggested to me nest/site preparation, but there are lots of problems with that—solitary nests are rare in this semi-colonial species (I read….) and Tom points out there are no breeding records for BNST away from eastern SLOCo.

But, regardless….30 feet or so away from the island, the female quit foraging and began ritualistic splashing with side-to-side motions of her bill.  The male got the message and approached.  Once next to her, he began preening, did his own bill splashing, and walked repeatedly behind to her other side then back, continuing the same behaviors beside her, back and forth 10 times or so until his programming said, “Hop aboard.”  She had been motionless once he had arrived, neck extended, rear up, ready.  

It must be tough to stand on a female stilt’s back with legs perfectly evolved but too long for this activity and wet feet in the middle of a pond, but he was motivated.   She stood steady as a statue, he fluttered a bit for balance, got those pink legs finally out of the way, nestled in, and for just a moment (4 frames of a 14-frame/second burst) consummation came.  He hopped off, and, in what is the most anthropomorphic depiction of intimacy I can imagine in a muddy pond, they touched foreheads, his bill resting across hers, this time lasting 5 frames, a full 25% longer than the act itself, for those paying attention.

We’ll see what happens next….

I’ve put a photographic documentation of the sequence on my Flickr site:

Dave Lawrence
Arroyo Grande