Anhinga, a Bird that can Swim and Fly

If you see a snake like appearance coming out of the water, only to realize it is a bird, you have just witnessed an Anhinga fishing. Coming to Florida almost two years ago, I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Florida birds, or really any birds for that matter. Living in Florida, the place that truly lives up to its latter name, the sunshine state, has got me flying with curiosity for every new bird I encounter. But I’m not here to write about my fun and newly discovered hobby, let’s get into what Anhingas are all about and what makes them an absolutely unique, enticing bird.

Anhingas can be seen anywhere in the southeastern swamps, mostly on quiet and sheltered waters, such as freshwater marshes, slow-moving rivers through cypress swamps, inlets and lagoons lined with mangroves and lakes with standing dead trees. They have a long neck accompanied by a long tail with beautiful blue eyes and an orange, long pointed bill. Males will have brighter color feathers than females. Unless they are around nesting colonies, these birds make little to no sounds, but when they do speak you will hear various clicking and croaking sounds. Often times they will be perched up on a branch over fresh water spreading their wings to be dried after taking a dive into the water for its next meal. They feed on small fish, shrimp, amphibians, crayfish, young alligators and snakes. Anhingas hunt while swimming underwater or at the water’s surface. Because they aren’t fast swimmers, they will usually sit and wait for a fish, then rapidly throw the fish in the air and swallow it. Their fishing methods understandingly show why they are often referred to as the “snake bird”.

Have you ever heard the term “Like water off a duck’s back?” Most birds have a special gland that secretes oil and is spread around the body when the bird cleans itself (preening). This oil helps keep birds clean and keeps feathers from getting wet. However, this repellent property common in ducks also makes them buoyant, making it difficult to stay under water. Anhingas lack this gland and can travel great distances underwater to pursue prey such as fish and amphibians. A common misconception about anhingas is that they must dry their feathers before flight. Though difficult, anhingas can burst from the water into flight given the right motivation, such as a lurking alligator. –National Park Service 

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In Florida, the Anhinga is a permanent resident, meaning he doesn’t get the pleasure or disgrace, whichever way you want to look at it, of being called a snowbird. These birds may also be found around Mexico, coastal regions of South Carolina, Texas, and Argentina. Breeding occurs seasonally in North America. Anhingas are monogamous and will most likely use the same nest year after year. The male begins courtship by soaring and gliding, followed by marking a possible nest location with leafy twigs. He then performs behavioral displays to attract the female. Once the pair is formed, the male gathers nesting material, while the female builds a platform nest, which is usually on a branch overhanging water or in open areas in the tops of trees. The female constructs the nest by weaving sticks together and padding it with live twigs and green leaves. Usually, the highly territorial males defend any threats to nesting territories with thorough displays and even fighting. If another male approaches the territory, the resident male spreads its wings and snaps its beak. If no retreat occurs, fighting will commence by pecking at each other’s heads and necks. Females are less aggressive, but will defend her nest if need be. In subtropical or tropical latitudes, breeding can occur throughout the year, or be brought on by wet or dry seasons. Females will usually lay four eggs.

“Over 500 native bird species or naturally occurring strays have been recorded in the state of Florida in historic times, and about 330
native species commonly occur here (four have gone extinct). A further 14 nonnative species are considered to have established large, stable populations in Florida.”-Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (2016 checklist of Florida Birds)

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With so many birds to become educated about, I’m so glad I have had the honor of witnessing an Anhinga. There are so many magnificent creators here on earth, don’t miss them by sitting inside. Bring your binoculars and go on an adventure, because if you don’t, you might just miss out on seeing a bird that can fly and swim!

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