African darter

African darters or ‘snakebirds’ are expert underwater fishermen equipped with stealth, diving skills, and a spear-like bill

Diego Delso

This bird is well-adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle and is commonly found across Sub-Saharan Africa, inhabiting a variety of freshwater environments, including lakes, swamps, and rivers. The bird has a very slim and long neck, which has earned it the nickname “snakebird,” as only the neck appears above water when it swims, resembling a snake ready to strike.

The African darter’s primary diet consists of fish, which it hunts with remarkable skill. Its body is specially adapted for an aquatic hunting lifestyle; it has webbed feet for propulsion and a long, sharp bill for spearing fish underwater. When hunting, the darter submerges itself and can swim long distances underwater to approach its prey stealthily. Once it spots a target, it uses its powerful neck and bill to spear the fish with precision.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the African darter is its feather structure. Unlike many other waterfowl, the darter’s feathers do not have waterproof oils, which allows it to decrease buoyancy and dive deeper and with more agility. However, this adaptation comes with the downside of the feathers becoming waterlogged. Consequently, the African darter is often seen perched with its wings spread out to dry in the sun after a hunting session. This behavior is critical for maintaining the bird’s body temperature and flight capabilities.

The drying of feathers is a critical behavior and is often a communal activity, with large groups of darters seen basking together along the banks of rivers or lakes. This behavior facilitates drying and serves as a social interaction among the birds.

The African darter is also known for its elaborate courtship displays, which involve an intricate series of gestures, including bill-clattering, neck-stretching, and feather fluffing. Breeding usually occurs in large colonies, where nests are constructed in trees or reeds overhanging water.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2016
Benin
2016
Botswana
2016
Burkina Faso
2016
Burundi
2016
Cameroon
2016
Central Af. Rep.
2016
Chad
2016
Comoros
2016
Non-Breeding
Congo-Brazzaville
2016
Côte D’ivoire
2016
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2016
Egypt
2016
Non-Breeding
Equatorial Guinea
2016
Eritrea
2016
Eswatini
2016
Ethiopia
2016
Gabon
2016
Gambia
2016
Ghana
2016
Guinea-Bissau
2016
Breeding
Guinea
2016
Iran
2016
Non-Breeding
Iraq
2016
Israel
0
Official estimate
EX
2016
Extinct 1950s
Jordan
0
Official estimate
EX
2016
Extinct locally
Kenya
2016
Lesotho
2016
Liberia
2016
Madagascar
2016
Malawi
2016
Mali
2016
Mauritania
2016
Mozambique
2016
Namibia
2016
Niger
2016
Nigeria
2016
Rwanda
2016
Senegal
2016
Sierra Leone
2016
Somalia
2016
South Africa
2016
South Sudan
2016
Sudan
2016
Syria
0
Official estimate
EX
2016
Extinct locally
Tanzania
2016
Breeding
Turkey
0
Official estimate
EX
2016
Extinct 1930s
Uganda
2016
Yemen
2016
Non-Breeding
Zambia
2016
Zimbabwe
2016

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No