Snakebird, Darter, Water crow, American darter, Water turkey
The anhinga is found in warmer regions of the Americas. Being members of the family of darters, they are related to cormorants and pelicans. "Anhinga" come from the Tupi language of Brazil and means snake bird or devil bird. These Central and North American birds are skilful swimmers with unique characteristics that help them when hunting for fish. With a large wing span, they are able to fly in the manner of a vulture or a hawk. Males and females look different, with the females being smaller and browner and the males blacker. Their feathers provide less buoyancy than ducks, so they are able to dive under the water, and swim with just their thin necks above the water, earning them the nickname of the "snake bird".
Anhingas live all year round in southwest coastal areas of the United States, from North Carolina to Texas. They are also found in Central America, Mexico, Panama and Cuba, and in South America from Colombia to Ecuador, and in the east of the Andes to Argentina. Anhingas live in tropical and subtropical areas. They prefer waters that are fresh or brackish, and can sometimes be found on coasts. They live near lakes, marshes, and mangrove swamps with tall trees and thick vegetation, and in shallow lagoons and bays.
Habits and lifestyle
Anhingas are diurnal and solitary, but may gather with cormorants, herons, ibises and storks. They will nest with their species and other birds in loose colonies, but do not associate with other anhingas aside from in nesting colonies. These birds are highly territorial, engaging in exaggerated displays when defending their nest site: spreading their wings and snapping their beak to threaten an intruder, leading to a fight if necessary, pecking each other on the neck and head. When they are in the water they spend most of their time fishing, otherwise they will be found perched in trees. They often crawl out of the water to find a high perch so they can sun themselves. As with turkey vultures and cormorants, anhingas will spread out their wings to sun themselves, which dries out their plumage, absorbing heat from the sun. They lose heat quickly in water as they have no layer of body feathers to provide insulation, thus, the sun's heat helps them to maintain their body temperature.
Diet and nutrition
Anhingas are carnivores (piscivores), they mostly eat fish, but will also feed on aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, insects, and reptiles.
Anhingas are monogamous, forming strong pair bonds, which last for life. During courtship, anhingas perform flying displays, soaring towards their nest from a great height. Birds in Mexico perform a particular display when they are at the nest, vocalizing to each other, stretching their neck towards their mate. Breeding is seasonal in North America. In latitudes which are sub-tropical or tropical, breeding can be throughout the year, or triggered by dry or wet seasons. The nest is built by both adults and is used then from year to year. 2 to 5 eggs are laid and incubation is for around 25 to 30 days, done by both parents. Chicks are naked and helpless when they hatch, and may have some dark and white down along their sides. They are brooded for 12 days by both parents and remain in their nest for three weeks. Then they climb out of their nest onto a branch, and they fledge at about six weeks old. They stay for several more weeks with their parents before becoming independent, and reach maturity when they are about 2 years old.
North America-seasonally, sub-tropical/tropical areas- year-round or during wet or dry season
In the Americas this species is abundant, despite their aquatic habitats being threatened. DDT (poison) has had an effect on their reproductive success, and banning this pesticide in the United States has benefited those populations that breed in the south of the country.
There are no estimates of population numbers for anhingas, but is has an extremely large range. According to the Audubon Florida resource, about 200-300 pairs of these birds breed in west-central Florida, the largest colony being at Alligator Lake in Safety Harbor. Currently anhingas are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, but their numbers today are decreasing.
Fun facts for kids
- The Creoles of Louisiana call the anhinga "Bec a Lancette," due to its pointed bill. In Southern Florida, this bird is called the "Grecian Lady."
- Anhingas are usually quiet birds, but they do make vocalizations, consisting of clicks, rattles, grunts and croaks.
- Anhinga parents first feed chicks by dripping regurgitated fish and fluid directly into their open bills. When the chicks are older, they will put their heads into their parents’ bills to get the food.
- If threatened, the chicks can drop into the water to swim away, and will later climb out of the water back into their nest.
- Male and female anhingas can easily be distinguished, as males have a black head and neck, while females have a golden brown head and neck.
- Anhingas are often seen soaring high overhead. They are graceful fliers and can fly long distances without needing to flap their wings, similar to the flight of a turkey vulture.
- The vertebrae in an anhinga’s neck have a structure to allow the powerful stabs they need to make to spear fish using their sharp bill.