Anhinga – Anhingas

Nicknamed ‘snakebirds’ because they hunt with just their head and long s-shaped neck extending above the water’s surface

Anhingas, also commonly known as darters, snakebirds, or water turkeys, are freshwater birds closely related to cormorants. They belong to the family Anhingidae, and their name ‘anhinga’ comes from the Brazilian Tupi language, meaning “devil bird” or “snake bird.” This is a nod to their long necks, which, when swimming, appear serpentine above the water.

These birds inhabit warm, shallow waters such as lakes, swamps, marshes, and mangroves in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Anhingas are well adapted to their aquatic environments and have several distinctive features and behaviors.

Anhingas are not endowed with waterproof feathers, which, similar to cormorants, allows them to reduce their buoyancy and dive more efficiently. After foraging, they can often be seen perched with their wings outstretched to dry their feathers, a necessary behavior to maintain flight readiness. Their plumage is typically dark, which helps absorb sunlight and aids in the drying process.

Their hunting technique is extraordinary. Anhingas dive and swim well underwater, propelling themselves with their webbed feet. They are stealthy and can remain submerged for significant periods, making them adept at sneaking up on their prey. Their diet consists mainly of fish, but they also consume aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and sometimes small reptiles. Anhingas spear fish with their sharp pointed bills and then surface to toss and catch their prey head-first for easy swallowing.

When it comes to nesting, anhingas are colonial, often breeding in mixed-species heronries. They build large, platform-like nests out of sticks and twigs in trees or bushes, frequently near water to provide easy access to food and a quick escape from potential predators. Both parents share in the care of the young, which includes feeding regurgitated food.