Feb 25 2010
Is this a water turkey? Snake-bird? American Darter? Or Anhinga anhinga?
It’s all of the above.
The anhinga has many names because it’s such a strange bird. It has a large fan tail like a turkey and a long thin neck like a snake. It darts underwater and impales fish with its bill. Its Latin name came from its common name which came from a South American (Tupi) word for forest demon.
The anhinga genus are tropical birds that occur worldwide, anywhere there’s warm water, lots of sun, sticks to stand on and plenty of fish. Those in the Western Hemisphere are called “anhinga.” The rest are called darters.
Anhingas eat fish and they swim to catch them. Their hunting technique is to lurk and dart so they’re specially adapted to neither float nor sink. Often they swim with only their heads and necks visible. To achieve this neutral buoyancy they have dense bones and wettable feathers. When their feathers are wet, they get cold and must haul themselves out of the water and spread their wings to dry. That’s why they need lots of sun and sticks to stand on.
This, of course, means anhingas are practically unheard of in Pennsylvania. I don’t know of a sighting in southwestern Pennsylvania but anhingas do wander and occasionally appear in spring or fall along eastern Pennsylvania migration routes. When found, the bird is soaring and on the move. One or two lucky birders notice it … and then it’s gone.
But they seem to be everywhere in Florida, sunning their wings. That’s where Kim Steininger photographed this one.
(photo by Kim Steininger)