With just a snakelike head poking above the shore, a dark body stealthily swims across a river. What may sound like the beast of Loch Ness is actually an Anhinga, swimming underwater and stabbing fish with his bill-like knife.
It strikes a royal pose on the edges of shallow lakes and ponds after every dip, with its silvery wings extended and its head held high to dry its waterlogged feathers. It takes to the sky once dry, flying high, stretching out wide as a cross.
They are easy to find hanging out to dry when Anhingas are not slowly swimming across shallow waters with just their heads sticking out. For a sunny bird, look along the borders of lakes and ponds with wooded margins.
Look up in the sky for Anhingas in the heat of the late afternoon, taking advantage of rising thermals. While being a waterbird, they soar very well and are often seen flying with a distinctive cross-shaped profile at great heights.
Table of Contents
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Suliformes
- Family: Anhingidaee
- Genus: Anhinga
The Anhinga sometimes referred to as the snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey is a water bird from the warmer parts of America.
The word Anhinga originates from the Tupi language of Brazil, and it literally translates to “devil bird” or “snake bird”.
When swimming, the origin of the name is evident: only the neck appears above the water, so the bird looks like a snake ready to strike. There are no external nares (nostrils), and they only breathe through their epiglottis.
The Anhinga is in the darter family, Anhingidae, and is closely associated with darters from India, Africa and Australia. Like other darters, using its sharp, slender beak, the Anhinga hunts by spearing fish and other small prey.
Anhinga species are found worldwide in warm shallow waters. The American Anhinga has been divided into two subspecies, A. a. Anhinga and A. a. Leucogaster, depending on the location. A. a. Anhinga can be found mostly east of the Andes in South America and also on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. A. a.
Leucogaster can be discovered in the southern United States, Grenada, Mexico, and Cuba. Fossil species of Anhinga walterbolesi have been described from Late Oligocene to Early Miocene in Australia.
The birds that live in the extreme north and south of their range migrate and do so based on temperature and abundant sunlight.
Anhingas can migrate to the equator during the winter. Still, this range is determined by the amount of sunshine to warm the chilled birds While not in their normal range, anhingas have been found as far north as the states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in the United States.
Anhingas kettles sometimes migrate with other birds and have been identified as black paper gliders.
The A. Anhinga is a large bird with a length of approximately 89 cm (35 in a width of 75-95 cm (30-37 in and a wingspan of 1.14 m (3.7 ft). The subspecies of Anhinga is more than A. a. Leucogaster has “broader buffy tail lips” They weigh about 1.22 kg (2.7 lb) on average, with a range of 1.04-1.35 kg (2.3-3.0 lb).
The bill about twice the head length and it possesses a sharply pointed, and webbed like feet, yellow.
The male is a glossy black-green with wings, wing base, and tail a glossy black-blue. There are white feathers on the tip of the tail.
There are elongated feathers on the back of the head and neck that have been identified as grey or light purple-white. White is spotted or streaked on the upper back of the body and wings.
Except that it has a pale grey-buff or light brown head, neck, and upper chest, the female Anhinga and the male look similar. The lower chest or breast region is a chestnut colour, and the female has a brown back compared to the male.
The hatchling starts out bald but within a few days of hatching gains tan down. The tan down is substituted by white down within two weeks.
The first juvenile feathers appear three weeks after hatching. Most juveniles are brown until they normally breed for the first time after the second or third winter.
Due to its similar size and structure, this bird is often mistaken for the double-crested cormorant, although the two birds can be distinguished by their tails and bills. The tail of the Anhinga is broader than that of the cormorant and is much longer. The bill of the Anhinga is pointed, while there is a hook-tip in the bill of the cormorant.
With their webbed feet, Anhingas swim and chase their prey, fish, underwater and spear their prey by quickly spreading their neck out.
They come to treat and swallow fish. The Anhinga does not have waterproof feathers, unlike ducks, ospreys and pelicans that cover their feathers with oil from their uropygial gland.
Upon immersion in water, their feathers get wet. They can not, therefore, remain floating on water for long periods of time.
Their dense bones, wet plumage and neutral water buoyancy enable them to immerse themselves and search for underwater prey fully.
With wet feathers, the Anhinga is unable to fly. The Anhinga has trouble as it tries to fly when its wings are wet, flapping violently when “running” on the water.
The Anhinga stands with wings spread like cormorants and feathers fanned open in a semicircular shape to dry their feathers and absorb heat. To dry their feathers, they face away from the sun.
Anhingas lose body heat relatively easily, and their posture helps them absorb solar radiation from the sun to balance the high heat loss rates.
Because an anhinga resembles a male turkey in the drying position, it has been colloquially referred to as the water turkey or swamp turkey.
Anhingas feed on wetland fishes of moderate size. The diet of the Anhinga in Alabama consists of fish such as mullet (fish), sunfish, catfish, suckers (Catostomidae), crabs, shrimp, aquatic insects, tadpoles, chain pickerel, crayfish, crabs water snakes (Nerodia) and small terrapins.
Florida, the anhingas mainly consume sunfish and bass (Centrarchidae), killifish (Cyprinodontiformes) and live-bearing fish (Poeciliidae).
Anhingas stalk underwater fish, primarily where some flora is present. When they find their prey, they open their bill partially and quickly stab the fish. They use both their jaws on larger fish and use the lower jaw on small fish.
If the fish is too big for forage, the Anhinga repeatedly stabs it and then lets it go. The anhingas bring their catch to the water’s surface, throw it back and swallow it head-first.
Status of Conservation
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the Anhinga is protected in the US. The number of individual anhingas has not been determined, but they are called leas.