STILT, or LONG-LEGGED PLOVER, a bird so-called (see STILTS) for reasons obvious to anyone who has seen it, since, though not very much bigger than a snipe, the length of its legs (their bare part measuring 8 in.), in proportion to the size of its body exceeds that of any other bird's. The first name (a translation of the French tchasse, given in 1760 by M J. Brisson) seems to have been bestowed by J. Rennie only in 1831; but, recommended by its definiteness and brevity, it has wholly supplanted the second and older one. The bird is the Charadrius himantopus 1 of Linnaeus, the Himantopus candidus or melanopterus of modern writers, and belongs to the group Limicolae, having been usually placed in the family Scolopacidae, though it might be quite as reasonably referred to the Charadriidae, and, with its allies to be immediately mentioned, would seem to be not very distant from Haematopus, notwithstanding the wonderful development of its legs and the slenderness of it3 bill.
The stilt obtains its food by wading in shallow water and seizing the insects that fly over or float upon its surface or the small crustaceans that swim beneath, for which purpose its slender extremities are, as might be expected, admirably adapted. Widely spread over Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe, it has many times visited Britain though always as a straggler, for it is not known to breed to the northward of the Danube valley and its occurrence in Scotland (near Dumfries)
1 The possible confusion by Pliny's transcribers of this word with Haematopus is referred to under OYSTERCATCHER. Himantopus, with its equivalent Loripes, " by an awkward metaphor," as remarked by Gilbert White, " implies that the legs are as slender and pliant as if cut out of a thong of leather."
was noticed by Sibbald so long ago as 1684. It chiefly resorts to pools or lakes with a margin of mud, on which it constructs a slight nest, banked round or just raised above the level so as to keep its eggs dry (Ibis, 1859, p. 360); but sometimes they are laid in a tuft of grass. They are four in number, and, except in size, closely resemble those of the oystercatcher (q.v.). The bird has the head, neck, and lower parts white, the back and wings glossy black, the irides red, and the bare part of the legs pink. In America the genus has two representatives, one 2 (Alter Gosse.)
FIG. I. Black-necked American Stilt.
(fig. i) closely resembling that just described, but rather smaller and with a black crown and nape. This is H. nigricollis or mexicanus, and occurs from New England to the middle of South America, beyond which it is replaced by H. brasiliensis, which has the crown white. The stilt inhabiting India is now recognized to be H. candidus, but Australia possesses a distinct species, H. novae-hollandiae, which also occurs in New Zealand, though that country has in addition a species peculiar to it, H. novaezelandiae, differing from all the rest by assuming in the breedingseason an altogether black plumage. Australia, however, presents another form, which is the type of the genus Cladorhynchus, and differs from Himantopus both in its style of plumage (the male having a broad bay pectoral belt), in its shorter tarsi, and in having the toes (though, as in the stilt's feet, three in number on each foot) webbed.
Allied in many ways to the stilts, but differing in many undeniably generic characters, are the birds known as Avocets, 3 forming the genus Recurvirostra of Linnaeus. Their bill, which is perhaps the most slender to be seen in the whole class, curves upward towards the end, and has given the oldest known species two names which it formerly bore in England, " cobbler's-awl," from its likeness to the tool so called, and " scooper," because it resembled the scoop with which mariners threw water on their sails. The legs, though long, are not extraordinarily so, and the feet, which are webbed, bear a small hind toe.
This species (fig. 2), the R. avocetta of ornithology, was of old time plentiful in England, though doubtless always restricted to certain localities. Charleton in 1668 says that when a boy he had shot not a few on the Severn, and Plot mentions it so as to lead one to suppose that in his time (1686) it bred in Staffordshire, while F. Willughby (1676) knew of it as being in winter on the eastern coast, and T. Pennant in 1769 found it in great numbers opposite to Fossdyke Wash in Lincolnshire, and described the birds as hovering over the sportsman's head like lapwings. In this district they were called " Yelpers " from their cry; 4 but whether that name was 2 This species was made known to Ray by Sloane, who met with it in Jamaica, where in his day it was called " long-legs."
3 This word is from the Bolognese Avosetta, which is considered to be derived from the Latin avis the termination expressing a diminutive of a graceful or delicate kind, as donnetta from donna (Professor Salvadori in epist.).
4 Cf. " yarwhclp " (see GODWIT) and " yaup " or " whaup " (see CURLEW). " Barker " and " clinker " seem to have been names used in Norfolk.
elsewhere applied is uncertain. At the end of the last century they frequented Romney Marsh in Kent, and in the first quarter of the present century they bred in various suitable spots in Suffolk and Norfolk the last place known to have been inhabited by them being Salthouse, where the people made puddings of their eggs, while the birds were killed for the sake of their feathers, which were used in making artificial flies for fishing. The extirpation of this settlement took place between 1822 and 1825 (cf. Stevenson, Birds of Norfolk, ii. 240, 241). The avocet's mode of nesting is much like that of the stilt, and the eggs are hardly to be distinguished from those of the latter but by their larger size, the bird being about as big as a lapwing (g.f.), white, with the exception of its crown, the back of the neck, the inner scapulars, some of the wing-coverts and (After Naumann.)
FIG. 2. Avocet.
the primaries, which are black.'while the legs are of a fine light blue. It seems to get its food by working its bill from side to side in shallow pools, and catching the small crustaceans or larvae of insects that may be swimming therein, but not, as has been stated, by sweeping the surface of the mud or sand a process that would speedily destroy the delicate bill by friction. Two species of avocct, R. americana and R. andina, are found in the New World; the former, which ranges so far to the northward as the Saskatchewan, is distinguished by its light cinnamon-coloured head, neck and breast, and the latter, confined so far as known to the mountain lakes of Chile, has no white in the upper parts except the head and neck. Australia produces a fourth species, R. novae-hottandiae or rubricollis, with a chestnut head and neck; but the European R. avocetta extends over nearly the whole of middle and southern Asia as well as Africa. (A. N.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)