Anhingidae – Anhingas

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

Also known as darters or snakebirds, these birds are adapted to warm, freshwater habitats such as lakes, rivers, swamps, and marshes. These birds are found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, including the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australasia.

Darters have garnered the nickname “snakebirds” due to their long, slender necks, which often stick out of the water when they swim, giving the impression of a snake ready to strike. This unique morphology is not just for show; it’s a critical adaptation for their hunting technique. They are expert fishers, using their sharp, pointed bills to spear fish and other aquatic prey with remarkable precision. Unlike most birds, darters use their necks to propel their heads forward rapidly to impale their prey, rather than relying solely on their feet for propulsion.

Their plumage is not waterproof, which aids in reducing buoyancy, allowing them to sink and swim underwater effortlessly. While beneficial for diving and hunting, this trait requires them to spend significant time drying out their feathers post-hunt. They can often be seen perching with wings outstretched to allow the sun and wind to assist in drying. This behavior is essential as waterlogged feathers could hinder their ability to fly and escape predators.

Darters inhabit areas rich in aquatic life and typically choose nesting sites that provide both food abundance and safety. They construct their nests out of twigs and vegetation, often in trees or bushes close to the water’s edge. This proximity to water is vital as it offers immediate access to food and a quick escape from potential threats. These nests are not only a cradle for their eggs but also serve as a platform for the young darters until they are ready to swim and hunt on their own.