Anhinga: Large, dark waterbird with long tail, snake-like neck, small head, red eyes, and long olive-brown bill. Body is green-black overall with silver-gray feathers appearing speckled and grizzled on upper back and forewings. AKA snakebird and water turkey. Often soars like a raptor.
Range and Habitat
Anhinga: Breeds near Atlantic and Gulf coasts from North Carolina to Texas, in Florida, and in Mississippi Valley north to southern Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky. Spends winters along the Gulf Coast north to South Carolina. Also occurs in tropical America. Preferred habitats include freshwater and coastal water bodies with thick vegetation and large trees, which it uses for roosting and nesting.
The pelicans with their massive pouched bills, dark-plumaged cormorants, and snake-necked anhingas are three of the six families found in the order PELECANIFORMES (pronounced pel-leh-KAN-ih-FOR-meez).
The four species of anhingas and darters, family Anhingidae (pronounced ahn-HIN-gih-dee), are placed in the same genus and occur in warm climates of the Americas, Australia, Asia and Africa.
North America has one species of Anhingidae in one genus, the Anhinga.
The Anhinga is known for its highly aquatic nature and propensity to perch for long periods of time with its wings outstretched to dry in the sun.
Anhingas are large birds with long, very thin necks tipped by a long, thin, sharp bill. They also have long tails somewhat similar to that of the Wild Turkey. This similarity has given rise to another name for this bird, the “Water Turkey”. As with most aquatic bird species, Anhingas have short legs with large, webbed feet.
Adults have black plumage with an iridescent greenish sheen and feathers with white speckling and tips on the wings, upper back, and upper part of the neck. The bill is yellow, a trait shared by young birds, although plumages of immature birds differ in being light brown on the breast and neck.
Anhingas are birds of freshwater marshes, lakes, swamps, and coastal areas of the southern United States and tropical regions south of the border. They prefer calm water with plenty of vegetation for perching and roosting.
Anhingas are mostly resident birds although northern populations migrate in raptor-like flocks that utilize thermals for soaring.
Aside from the flocks they form during migration, Anhingas are solitary birds. Whether seen in migrating groups or alone, they are often seen soaring high above wetlands, the long neck, wings and tail forming a distinctive cross-like shape. In the water, Anhingas often swim with just their head above the surface. When foraging, they swim underwater to spear fish with their pointed bill, a situation that can require removing their prey on a branch before swallowing it whole.
Anhingas in North America are fairly common throughout their range and are not considered to be threatened. In southern Asia, however, like many waterbirds, the Oriental Darter is a species of conservation concern.
Anhingas lack the oil glands many other birds use to waterproof their feathers, a fact that explains why they need to spend so much time drying their feathers in the sun. Nevertheless, the wet plumage works in favor of the Anhinga as this adaptation allows them to swim better and thus aids in the pursuit of their underwater prey.