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The Teen Photographer Capturing Bay Area Avocets on Camera (and Where You Can See Them Too)

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A close-up of the avocet's mating kiss. (Parham Pourahmad)

If you’re a Bay Area wildlife watcher, you might be familiar with the American Avocet — slender shorebirds with a talent not just for color changes but also their elegant courting that’s been described as a “love dance.”

This year, Bay Area teen wildlife photographer Parham Pourahmad was able to capture the beauty of these native California shorebirds in a series of stunning photographs.

An avocet walks on a muddy island. (Parham Pourahmad)

“I’ve been trying to capture their mating ritual for, like, two years now,” said Pourahmad, 14, who also shared that it can be “really challenging” given the available light and the positioning of the birds themselves.

In 2023, Pourahmad won the California Watchable Wildlife, a photography competition with a photo of a red-shouldered hawk in Santa Cruz. He then started his Instagram account to showcase his images of Bay Area wildlife, where he’s been posting his avocet photographs.

The male wraps his wing over the female as the dance comes to a close. (Parham Pourahmad)

During the breeding season, around April through July, avocets undergo a fascinating transformation through a partial molting process: Their usual white and gray feathers are replaced with a striking orange hue.

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“Their bodies turn a beautiful brownish-pink. It’s really pretty,” said Amy Parsons, a water bird biologist at the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO).

An avocet protects its nest from a black-necked stilt. (Parham Pourahmad)

While many birds molt at various life stages, the avocets’s color change is a dramatic example.

“In the fall and winter, their heads are a dull gray, and they don’t really stand out,” Pourahmad said. “But starting about [mid-March] and lasting until mid-summer, their heads turn a vibrant orange, making them look really cool.”

The avocet mating ritual, often described as a dance, features the pair moving in unison with their bills intertwined after mating. “Their bills cross to look like a kiss,” Pourahmad said.

A close-up of the avocet’s mating kiss. (Parham Pourahmad)

It’s one of my favorite shots of the year,” Pourahmad said. “The Bay Area is full of amazing sights.”

If you want to spot these spectacular shorebirds for yourself, Pourahmad recommends locations like:

“A lot of people in the San Francisco Bay don’t realize the rich, beautiful environment we have,” Parsons said.

A high-key photo of a wading avocet. (Parham Pourahmad)

“You hear about old salt evaporation ponds and think they’re uninspiring, but they’re part of a vibrant ecosystem with many species passing through year-round.”

For a guide to birding in the Bay Area for beginners, check out KQED’s guide from 2020.

A pair of avocets are mating, with the male bird on the back of the female. Avocets often nest on sandy shores or mud flats. (Parham Pourahmad)

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