Mating Black-necked Stilts

On a recent trip to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge we were photographing American Avocets when I spotted some tell-tale preliminary behavior from a pair of Black-necked Stilts that told me that mating was imminent.  So I set up on them and quickly changed my settings for more depth of field and almost immediately the action began.


black necked stilt 2404 ron dudley

 1/5000, f/8, ISO 640, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc

Stilt mating behavior is complex, with many distinct and sequential stages but during most of them the birds were turned away from me so I didn’t much like most of those shots but I think this one worked out pretty well.  One of the reasons the image appeals to me is the oval ring of water drops/bubbles from their activity that surrounds the birds.  This is a tricky balancing act on the part of the male and it takes him quite a while to become stabilized enough to consummate the act.

Here’s something that fascinates me from a behavioral and evolutionary point of view:  the complicated and ritualized mating behaviors of Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets are virtually identical – something I’ve seen and photographed many times.  The steps involved include Solicitation Posture from the female, Sexual Preening with water splashing, the male repeatedly circling the female before copulation, copulation itself, then Bill Crossing (the males bill is always placed on top of that of the female) and then finally the male drapes his wing over the back of the female just prior to separation.  I won’t go into more detail here but if you’re interested I’ve documented these behaviors in the American Avocet in a previous post.

This was one of those times when being familiar with behaviors enabled me to get the shot.  I’d have surely missed it otherwise.


Note:  I’ll be out of town for a few days this week with no computer access and a limited and unreliable cell phone signal so I’ll likely get any comments you may leave (via email) but I won’t be able to respond to them until I return.

5 comments to Mating Black-necked Stilts

  • How lovely, and they both look so tranquil. I also enjoy seeing your photos every morning, it’s a great learning experience! thanks, Kim

  • Stunning birds, and shots. Thank you so much.

  • Cindy Schnackel

    Great capture!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing your talent and expertise!

  • Patty Chadwick

    Great shots! Once again, being familiar with species specific behavior pays off. These are quite elegant birds with their tuxedo tops and red tights I probably wouldn’t get a chance to see if not for your wonderful photos. The first thing I do every morning, before even dressing, is to check what “Santa brought” on my laptop. Thanks again, Santa.