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Anhinga Fact File

Anhinga anhinga

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

1.2kg

(2.5lbs)

Length

89cm

(35in)

Lifespan

Wild 16 years

Captive 16 years

Diet

Carnivore

Fish, Reptiles

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The Snakebird of the America's!

The anhinga is commonly referred to as the snakebird. This is in reference to their behavior of swimming with their body below the waterline and the head and long neck sitting on the surface giving the appearance of a snake.

This species will feed on fish and other animal prey. These are captured by impaling them using their sharp beak and then bringing them to the surface to swallow.

Their nest is formed in a tree as a platform of sticks. The male will bring the female sticks which she can form in to the nest. On occasion they have been seen to use the nest of herons and egrets.

While considered to be in decline across much of their range no major threats to their survival are listed.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.

Appearance

What does the Anhinga look like?

Males are colored black with a green iridescence to them. On the wings they have white and silvery spots. Atop the head is a small crest of black feathers. The female differs in having a brownish or tan head and neck.


A bare patch is present around the eye. This will become brighter as they grow and during breeding season it is blue.


There is a permanent kink in the neck of the anhinga. On the back of the neck are long, fine plumes.


The beak of this species is long and dagger like. It is colored yellow. There are rough edges along the bill which help to grip their prey.


They have broadly webbed feet.


An average anhinga will measure 89cm (35in) long with a weight of 1.2kg (2.5lbs).

Adaptations

How does the Anhinga survive in its habitat?


Unlike most birds this species has heavy bones. Their feathers also absorb water. Both of these traits help these birds to sink and allow them to swim under the water so they can feed.

Their feathers also struggle to hold heat making it difficult for this species to thermoregulate.


This species is able to hold its breath for up to a minute when underwater.

Their feet are webbed which allows them to propel themselves through the water.

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Diet

What does the Anhinga eat?

The anhinga is a carnivore which primarily feeds on fish. Other prey items include amphibians and reptiles including young alligators. These are speared while swimming through the water.


Prey is captured below the water. They will then take it to the surface and shake it free from their bill before swallowing it. These animals are not fast swimmers and will typically wait for fish to come to them.

Learn more about the Anhinga in this video from Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Anhinga?

North and South America is the native home of the anhinga. Here they will breed in the following countries – Argentina; Belize; Bolivia,; Brazil; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Ecuador; El Salvador; French Guiana; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Venezuela, Uruguay and the United States.

They can be found as vagrant individuals in the following countries – Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas; Barbados; Canada; Cayman Islands; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Martinique; Jamaica; Montserrat; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Habitat

Where can the Anhinga survive?

This species is found in wetland habitats and will rely on water to survive. They primarily use fresh water.

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the Anhinga produce its young?

Their nest is a platform which is created from twigs and reeds. Some leaves may be used to line the nest. These will be collected by the male and then placed by the female.

On occasion they will take over the nest of a heron or egret. They may toss their eggs from the nest when this occurs.


In to the nest up to six eggs will be deposited. Their eggs are colored a chalky blue color. These are incubated for three to four weeks by both parents.

At hatching the young will be blind and helpless.


The parents feed the chicks with pre-digested fish. They are gradually transitioned on to whole fish as they grow.


Fledging takes place at six weeks old but their parents support them for a few more weeks.

Sexual maturity is reached at two years old.

Behavior

What does the Anhinga do during its day?

Feeding takes place during the day. They will depart their roost soon after sunset to begin their hunt.


These birds will form colonies with a range of other waterbird species.


Colonies will roost in a tree.


Often the anhinga will be spotted perched with its wings open. This helps to dry them and to regulate its temperature.

These birds are mostly silent. At their nesting sites they will make a range of croaking and clicking sounds.

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What stops the Anhinga from surviving and thriving?

Across much of their range they are considered to be decreasing in number but in the United States they are believed to have an increasing population.

No significant threats to this species are currently recognized.

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Quick facts

These birds are alternatively known as the snakebird. This name comes from their swimming style. They will move with their body under the water and neck sticking out looking like a snake.

Another nickname is the water turkey. This is taken from their turkey like tail.

The name Anhinga comes from the Tupi Indians in Brazil. It means "devil bird."

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Credit: Public Domain

References

Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley

Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.

BirdLife International. 2016. Anhinga anhingaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22696702A93581588. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22696702A93581588.en. Accessed on 07 January 2022.

Kearns, L. 2009. "Anhinga anhinga" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 07, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Anhinga_anhinga/

Audubon. 2022. Anhinga. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/anhinga> [Accessed 7 January 2022].

Nhpbs.org. 2022. Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga – NatureWorks. [online] Available at: <https://nhpbs.org/natureworks/anhinga.htm> [Accessed 7 January 2022].

Allaboutbirds.org. 2022. Anhinga Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. [online] Available at: <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Anhinga/overview> [Accessed 7 January 2022].

Tn.gov. 2022. Anhinga. Anhinga anhinga, Images and Information. [online] Available at: <https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/birds/waterbirds/anhinga.html> [Accessed 7 January 2022].

Nps.gov. 2022. Anhinga: Species Profile – Everglades National Park (U.S. National Park Service). [online] Available at: <https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/anhinga.htm> [Accessed 7 January 2022].

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