Sunday, February 20, 2011


Last post from Florida - promise. But with weather here in Ohio cold, rainy/sleety, and dipping down in to the low 30's, it's time to regurgitate a few more photos from the Deep South, these of a most interesting animal.

A familiar silhouette in the Florida swamps - a long-tailed, long-necked, long-billed Anhinga.

Sleek and ebony, a male Anhinga fans his wings dry after a fishing trip. Like the closely related cormorants, Anhingas lack waterproofing oils and thus are not very bouyant. This necessitates lengthy timeouts to dry the plumage, but decreased bouyancy is an asset if you wish to stay under water, pursuing piscine prey.

A female Anhinga, brown about the head and neck. It looks like she has donned a wool pullover.

Say, if you struggle with learning scientific names, and have always been dazzled by those propellerheaded techno-geeks that can spout them at the drop of a hat, this bird can be your entree to that rarified crowd. Anhinga. Scientific name: Anhinga anhinga.

Or you could dispense with Anhinga altogether. This bird has several other cool names. Darter. Snakebird. And a personal fave, the Water-turkey.

But Anhinga is a pretty cool name, with interesting roots. It hails from tribal Brazilian lingo and roughly means "devil bird". They'd know the bird well down there, too - like so many of Florida's southern specialty birds, the Anhinga reaches its northern limits in the southernmost U.S. but ranges widely throughout South America.
A male Anhinga belches out what, quite frankly, is a pretty unmelodic tune. Basically, they make surprisingly loud nasal croaks - not a sound you'll probably hear on those soothing sounds of nature CD's.

At one spot, I was able to watch an Anhinga swimming underwater. As ungainly as they may look when flopped onto a branch, wings outstretched like an oafish Dracula spreading his cape, they transform when in the water. The photo above shows how Anhingas acquired the "snakebird" nickname. With only head and neck protruding, and the shadow of that long skinny body following behind, they do resemble a serpent slicing through the water.

The business end of an Anhinga; not something you want to encounter if you are a fish. Anhingas are astonishingly fast and graceful when submerged, and more than capable of overtaking prey and spearing them in the blink of an eye with that daggerlike bill. We saw one that had impaled a fair-sized bluegill so firmly that the bird was forced to beat and swipe the fish against a stout branch in an attempt to dislodge it. After ten minutes or so of watching that struggle, I left and the Anhinga was still flailing away.

Anhingas are excellent flyers, and can soar high aloft every bit as effortlessly as eagles. Sometimes they'll catch thermals and swirl skyward until they're just tiny specks. Every now and again, an especially exploratory Anhinga will venture way to the north of where they ought to be. One was seen in Ohio way back in 1885, along the Ohio River near Marietta. That stood as a remarkable record for over a century, until Judy Semroc photographed another Anhinga near Akron in 2006. And I don't think we've seen the last of these odd water-turkeys.


Randy Kreager said...

I got such a kick out of watching the anhingas during my Florida trip. At Ding Darling, I watched one anhinga fish for quite a little while. I think that the female is the better looking of the two. What a wonderful bird. Thanks for sharing!

rebecca said...

That trick of swimming with just their head out of the water is a real crowd pleaser when I lead bird walks for kids here - especially when they surface carrying a big fish in their bill.

Heather said...

"...those propellerheaded techno-geeks that can spout the [scientific names] at the drop of a hat" - Gee, I don't know anyone who fits that description better than you, Jim! I will be sure to add anhinga anhinga to my only other memorized latin name... I'm sure you can guess that it's turdus migratorius. Now I will SURELY amaze all my friends!

Jim McCormac said...

Thank you, ye Anhinga fans, for your comments. And Heather, I am NOT a PHTG! But I am glad that I helped you master a scientific name!

Clara said...

Seeing a cormorant “fly” past you underwater is pretty cool, too. You should consider scuba diving for additional birding opportunities in Florida!

LaVonne said...

My husband & Have seen these strange pre-historic birds the last 2 yrs at the Walborn resevoir in Marlboro Ohio. I've been trying to I.D. them. They may be some type of cormorant, but they really seem to me to be an anihinga! They're necks are vey thin & they fly fast with lots of flapping!

Richard Gilbert said...

There are quite a few of them now on Lake Logan, Logan, Ohio. A whole big family at least has been here all season and this fall.