Snakebird

We saw thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of birds as we cruised Yellow Water. There is an incredible concentration of birdlife at this wetland site, and I was nearly beside myself with delight (and frantic to write down everything we were seeing). It wasn’t just numbers of each species, though that was impressive, but the diversity of species, as well. Ibis, sea eagles, ducks, pygmy geese, lotus birds, and vastly more surrounded us, flew or perched overhead, or hunted in the water nearby.

Among those hunters were several snakebirds, which are also called darters, and in some parts of the world are known as anhingas. Snakebirds are found in tropical to warm temperate regions worldwide, with the exception of Europe. I have since seen anhingas in Florida, while down there photographing birds during the spring mating season, but my first view of this lithe bird was at Yellow Water.

The bird gets its “snakebird” moniker from the way it hunts. It swims almost completely submerged, with only its head and long, flexible neck above the water. As it swims, the head and neck dart from side to side, darting snakelike as it looks for fish. (And that darting is, of course, why it is also sometimes called a darter.) When it sees a fish, the snakebird strikes with the speed of a snake, too, spearing the fish on its bill. It then carries the fish to shore for consumption. Once fed, it perches on a branch and spreads out its wings to dry them.

The darter below is being watched by a couple of Australian pelicans—which were also abundant at Yellow Water.
Snakebird and Australian pelicans

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Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, Nature, Travel

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