Photo: Bill Hertha/Flickr Creative Commons

Anhinga

Anhinga anhinga

Family Anhingas
Habitat Cypress swamps, rivers, wooded ponds. Mostly on quiet and sheltered waters, such as freshwater marshes, slow-moving rivers through cypress swamps, inlets and lagoons lined with mangroves, lakes with standing dead trees.
A long-necked, long-tailed swimmer of southeastern swamps. Often seen perched on a snag above the water, with its wings half-spread to dry. Can vary its buoyancy in water, sometimes swimming with only head and neck above water (earning it the nickname of "Snakebird"). Often solitary when feeding, it roosts in groups and nests in colonies. Looks rather like a cormorant when perched, but not in flight, when the long tail may be spread wide as the Anhinga soars high on outstretched wings. Anhingas are silent at most times, but around nesting colonies they make various croaking and clicking sounds.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Hunts for fish while swimming underwater or at surface. Not usually a fast swimmer, mostly waits for fish to come near, then impales them with lightning-fast thrust of long, pointed bill. Structure of neck is specially adapted for this kind of rapid thrust. Fish often tossed in air, then swallowed headfirst.


Eggs

4, sometimes 2-5. Whitish to pale blue, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by both sexes, 25-29 days. Young: both parents feed young. After age of about 2 weeks, if young are disturbed, they will jump out of nest into water; at least sometimes, they are able to climb back up to nest. Young climb in nest tree using feet and bill. Age at first flight unknown.


Young

both parents feed young. After age of about 2 weeks, if young are disturbed, they will jump out of nest into water; at least sometimes, they are able to climb back up to nest. Young climb in nest tree using feet and bill. Age at first flight unknown.

Diet

Mostly fish. Feeds primarily on "rough" fish of little value to humans, including catfish, mullet, pickerel, sucker, gizzard shad. Also aquatic insects, crayfish, shrimp, sometimes snakes, baby alligators, small turtles.


Nesting

Sometimes nests in isolated pairs, usually in groups, in mixed colonies with herons, ibises, cormorants. Male chooses site in colony and displays there to attract mate. Displays include waving wings, raising tail up over back, pointing bill skyward and then bowing deeply. Nest: built mostly by female, with material supplied by male. A platform of sticks, often lined with green leaves. Sometimes takes over an occupied nest of heron or egret.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Withdraws from northern breeding areas in winter. Many go to Mexico, migrating around Gulf of Mexico, with migrant flocks seen along Texas coast in spring and fall. Some remain all winter in south, especially peninsular Florida. Lone strays occasionally wander far to north during warmer months.

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Migration

Withdraws from northern breeding areas in winter. Many go to Mexico, migrating around Gulf of Mexico, with migrant flocks seen along Texas coast in spring and fall. Some remain all winter in south, especially peninsular Florida. Lone strays occasionally wander far to north during warmer months.

Songs and Calls
Low grunts like those of cormorants.