Sometimes called a snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey, the Anhinga, is a water bird found in the warmer parts of the Americas.
It is easy to see why the Anhinga is also known as the ‘Snakebird’. When it swims, only the colored neck appears above water so the bird looks like a snake ready to strike.
They do not have nostrils and breathe completely through their epiglottis.
Information & Facts:
The Anhinga is a large bird and measures approximately 89 cm (35 in) in length, with a range of 75–95 cm (30–37 in), and a 1.14 m (3.7 ft) wingspan. They weigh on average around 1.22 kg (2.7 lb), with a range of 1.04–1.35 kg (2.3–3.0 lb).
The bill is relatively long (about twice the length of the head), sharply pointed and yellow like their webbed feet.
The male is a glossy black-green with the wings, base of wings, and tail a glossy black-blue. The tip of the tail has white feathers. The back of the head and the neck have elongated feathers that appear gray or light purple-white. The upper back of the body and wings is spotted or streaked with white.
The female Anhinga is similar to the male except that it has a pale gray-buff or light brown head, neck, and upper chest. The lower chest or breast is a chestnut color and as compared to the male, the female has a more brown back.
The hatchling starts out bald but gains tan down within a few days of hatching. Within two weeks the tan down is replaced by white down. Three weeks after hatching, the first juvenile feathers appear. Juveniles are mostly brown until they first breed usually after the second or third winter.
Anhingas swim with their webbed feet and pursue their prey, fish, under water and spear their prey by rapidly stretching out their neck. They come up to handle and swallow fish.
Unlike ducks, ospreys and pelicans, the Anhinga does not have waterproof feathers. Their feathers get soaked upon immersion in water. For this reason, they cannot stay floating on water for long periods of time.
As a result of their dense bones, wetted plumage and neutral buoyancy in water, they are able to fully submerge and search for underwater prey.
The Anhinga cannot fly with wet feathers. If it attempts to fly while its wings are wet, the Anhinga has difficulty, flapping vigorously while “running” on the water. The anhinga stands with wings spread and feathers fanned open in a semicircular shape to dry its feathers and absorb heat. They face away from the sun to dry their feathers.
Anhingas lose body heat relatively fast and their posture helps them absorb solar radiation from the sun to balance the high rates of heat loss.
Anhingas feed on moderately sized wetland fishes. In Florida, they predominately eat sunfish and bass, killifishes and live-bearing fishes.
Anhingas stalk fish underwater, mainly where there is some flora present. Once they locate their prey, they partly open their bill and stab the fish swiftly. For larger fish, they use both their jaws but use just the lower jaw for small fish. If the fish is too large to eat, the Anhinga stabs it repeatedly and then lets it go. The Anhinga will then bring their capture to the surface of the water, toss it backwards and engulf it head-first.