A male anhinga preens itself just after coming out of the water in Tampa, Florida's Lettuce Lake Park.
The anhinga or American darter (anhinga anhinga) can be found throughout the Americas from the southeastern United States to Argentina. Because it lacks the oils and types of feathers used to keep birds warm, they are restricted to the warmer climes. It is also called the black darter, water turkey, or snakebird.
The word anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language, which means devil bird, an evil spirit of the woods. The anhingas or darters, and cormorants are all part of the order suliformes. They were once part of the same family but have been separated into two families, anhingidae and phalacrocoracidae respectively.
The anhinga roosts in trees and bushes near freshwater, or the brackish water found in bays, lagoons and tidal streams, to be near its food source. It catches its prey by diving, swimming slowly while stalking its prey, and then stabbing it with its pointed beak. They usually take their catch to shore to eat. Taking it off its beak by shaking it or beating it on the ground, the anhinga then tosses it into the air and catches it so that it can swallow it head first. Although the anhingas main diet is fish, they also feed on other aquatic animals like eels, snakes, crayfish, frogs, etc. Because the anhinga stalks its prey instead of chasing it, like the cormorant does, it swims slower than the cormorant and doesn't dive as deep.
An anhinga will often be seen swimming near the surface of the water with only its head and neck showing looking much like a swimming snake, which is how it got the name snakebird. Because it lacks the oils that most waterbirds use to coat their feathers, the anhinga's feathers become waterlogged, which make it easier for it to sink and swim under the water but offers no protection from the cold. This causes them to have to come out of the water frequently to warm up and dry off. You will see them perched in bushes or trees.
June 2nd, 2019
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