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Anhingidae – Anhinga


Anhinga in the United States: Photo by Ryan Sanderson

Anhingidae, commonly known as darters or snakebirds, are sleek, long-necked birds found in warm, shallow waters around the world. Their sharp, pointed bills are perfect for spearing fish, which they catch with swift, underwater strikes. Often seen drying their wings in the sun, these birds have less waterproof plumage than other waterbirds, which aids in their diving but requires them to regularly dry off. Their distinctive, sinuous necks and striking plumage make them a fascinating sight for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Overview of Anhinga

Like their cormorant cousins, darters are foot-propelled divers that lack waterproof plumage. This, combined with their dense bones, reduces their buoyancy, leading them to swim with just their neck and bill above the surface, earning them the nickname “snakebird” in North America. They hunt fish in tropical lakes and streams, harpooning them with their stiletto-like bills. After surfacing with their catch impaled, they toss it into the air, grab it, and swallow it headfirst. Unlike any other bird, the central tail feathers and some of the inner flight feathers of the wing, especially in males, have distinct transverse corrugations along their length, which are easily visible when they spread their wings to dry.