Bird: Anhinga (Anhinga Anhinga)

Height: 34"

Description: Black body and breast; wings are black with a pattern of light streaks that run onto the upper back. Tail feathers are long and dark. Bill is dull yellow, spear-like, and very long. Feet are webbed and match bill in color, each toe ends with a sharp claw. Neck and chest feathers of the female are tan and are noticeably lighter than those of the male. Neck is long and very agile. Commonly seen spreading wings to dry feathers in sun. Immature plumage is similar to female, but is lighter overall.

Voice: A quiet, low, and creaky guttural "rahhhhhhhk".


Feeding: The Anhinga swims on the surface of the water like a duck, then dives to catch its food. It often spears its prey with its bill, then flips it up, and swallows it head first. Eats mostly fish. Has been reported to eat baby alligators.

Other Behavior: Anhinga have long and very agile necks. While hunting, they become waterlogged fast since they do not have oil glands to waterproof their feathers. When they become heavy, they swim with their body submerged and only their neck above the water. Their long, maneuverable neck and head resemble the body of a snake and thus they are often called "the snakebird". Anhinga are less communal than cormorants, and usually hunt, perch and dry their wings solitarily. Anhinga will often display aggression against intruders of the same species or other species by sneaking up on them underwater and then giving them an upward jab with the bill. I've seen a Pied-billed Grebe jump up out of the water when startled by such a maneuver.

Note: Anhinga are often mistaken for cormorants. Neither bird has the natural oils that are required to waterproof their feathers. This makes them more efficient divers, but also requires them to stop hunting occasionally to spread and dry their wings. Anhinga will wait to stop hunting until they are almost too heavy to swim, then will struggle to shore with only their long neck and head above water. One difference between an anhinga and a cormorant is the bill. An Anhinga has a pointed bill that it uses to spear fish. A cormorant has a blunt, hooked bill that is used to scoop and hold fish. In flight, the Anhinga flaps and then soars. The cormorant soars continuously.


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Anhinga like to perch on the handrails of the boardwalk at Wakodahatchee. They are very tame and will allow people to approach within a few feet without flying away. Last summer I watched an Anhinga spear a fish that was about eight inches long by six inches tall without the fins. I was skeptical at first about the bird's ability to handle its catch, but after a short struggle, the fish became a fish shaped lump in the Anhinga's neck. The Anhinga swam to shore to shake the fish from its bill, then flipped the fish up, tilted her head back, and swallowed the fish whole.

Image courtesy of Al Liberman




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