Through the Looking Glass of Val Lee—Anhinga

Anhinga Female © Val J. Lee

My photo above reveals a large black and white bird, referred to as the Anhinga of the Cormorant family/Phalacrocoracidae family.

The Anhinga (word defined as “darter” from Portuguese) is a bird of the southern swamplands. The aves I shot were in the wondrous Florida Everglades of alligators and crocodiles and other interesting genres.

Crocodile of Florida © Val J. Lee

A million gators make Florida their home and one to two thousand crocs. It is unusual for both of these kinds to live together and the only place they do is in the Everglades. This because God’s glades offer brackish or saline waters which crocs thrive in and non-brackish for gators.

The Anhinga is also dubbed the “piano bird” as its wings resemble black and white piano keys on a long keyboard as viewed in the first photo.

This ave is also referred to as the water-turkey for its broad tail, so much so, as to resemble an actual turkey’s feathers, though not a complete wrap around. A turkey’s fan feathers wrap around its body with additional decorative feathers adding a more a dressy effect. Obviously, a turkey has no desire to place it’s unique structural design underwater to catch a fish. Turkeys are crafted by God to be adept swimmers though they prefer not to swim. They can swim through surface waters by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking. But it is not considered proper etiquette to throw one in the water to simply watch it swim, being they are land lovers. Though there is a video showing a wild turkey that loves to be in the water swimming—a rare exception with rare personality.

The Anhinga is additionally known as the “snake-bird” for its habit of swimming with just its long head and neck viewed on the surface. And sometimes referred to as “darter” and as stated above, this is the definition of “Anhinga.” It darts here and there in the water to curve its carnivorous cravings.

An Anhinga can remain under water for a length in time when it submerges for the hunt. You wonder if it will ever surface again from its lovely and swift dive. It feeds mainly “on fish, but also aquatic invertebrates, insects, reptiles and amphibians.”

Anhinga male © Val J. Lee

The God-fashioned, lengthy neck of the Anhinga holds within a vertebra, a formed agile organ of movement, with an expanding throat, allowing the sprinting of its head in rapid movement to spear its prey with its elongated, sharp bill.

It appears the Anhinga can do just about anything with its rope-like neck, except tie a knot.

The expanding neck allows the swallowing of the entire fish of a good catch.

It is a marvel of the LORD Jesus Christ, the Creator of all, and all things hold together in Him; Colossians chapter 1. And believers acknowledge the Godhead moves as One in creation from the time of “Let Us” make man in Our own image; Genesis 1:26-28.

My video:

Anhingas must dry out their feathers after a hearty swim. However, they do own a preen oil gland or uropygial gland at the base of their body, above their tail feathers. They rub their beaks and head onto this oil-well or source to deposit on their feathers. This uropygial gland has been installed in many waterbirds—Ducks, Pelicans, Petrels, Ospreys and Oilbirds (Oilbirds are a unique, nocturnal, monogamous, South American, flying, fruit-eating species with whiskers. Both cats and Oilbirds use whiskers for night hunting. In the past, Oilbird chicks were captured and boiled down for their oil content and thus their name. They obtain much of their fruity nutrition from oil palms.)

I believe the LORD God designed the Anhinga’s wing-drying necessity for us to rejoice in; this masterpiece of feather designing. To me, it resembles an intricate, winsome black and white quilt on a clothesline set out to dry.

Anhinga male with webbed feet wrapped around branch © Val J. Lee

Anhingas are also blessed with webbed feet for their water sporting. These beauties kick their feet to move through the waters when they engage in deep dives. They plummet for fish, frogs, young alligators, etcetera. Their masterfully-crafted feet also wrap neatly around branches when perching.

This ave has an obvious, appealing wingspan—3.7 feet.  Its length is 30-37 inches and can weigh in at three pounds or a bit less.

Anhingas soar overhead like a hawk when hunting for prey and once found, they dive deep into the water or simply surface swim like a swift snake.

Anhingas are monogamous—mating for life. Pairs may reuse nests from year to year and will even seize abandoned nests of large bird kinds such as Blue Herons.

Anhingas can breed in colonies above salt water, though they hunt in fresh waters.

A male will entice a gal by soaring and gliding and marking a potential nest site with leafy twigs for courtship and to let her know he is throwing away bachelorhood for family life.

He displays gorgeous, large,  neon aqua-blue and neon light-green hues of skin which surround his eyes. These lovely lores are naturally attractive to a gal. These bright colors are a delight to behold by birders as well. Males also display a large, neon, aqua-blue eye ring, and within is seated his extraordinary, ruby eyes.

Anhinga male © Val J. Lee

Males also exhibit lengthy, fancy plumes arranged down its neck and bodily black and white satin feathers.

And for the grand finale, he will perform an attractive, perfectly synced, rhythmic dance just for her.

And when they have chosen each other, they both may move in synchronized fashion in a courtship ballet-like dance.

Anhinga and Cormorant Rookery © Val J. Lee

These water birds are like social butterflies, they love company and nest with other Anhingas and Cormorants in a rookery aka a breeding colony or what I call a tree-wooded village of watery views. They will also nest in communities with Herons or Egrets.

Of course, safety in numbers applies here as well. This colony life is true of Blue Herons too, though when not breeding, Herons are fishing loners.

It is interesting to me that all the Anhingas can recognize their mates in a look-alike colony, excepting male and female distinctions. God is incomprehensible in His intelligent designing.

The soon-to-be-mom constructs the nest for their arriving young by weaving sticks together and cushioning them with green leaves—the best soft mattress she can make herself. The papa-to-be brings his dear sweetheart nesting materials and places them in her beak. He does his best to do his part for his gal and to please her in nursery preparation.

No gynecologist is needed to tell the couple they will soon have babies. God tells them!  Jeremiah 8:7 in the Bible, “Even the Stork in the heavens knows her appointed times; And the Turtledove, the Swift, and the Swallow observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the LORD.”

And from Job chapter 8: “But now ask the wild animals, and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; And the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?”

It is quite heart-touching to observe two Anhingas working to form the perfect nest for their offspring. Though it appears the gal is in charge of forming the perfect crib.

The highly territorial papa-to-be will defend, if necessary, any threats to his babies’ bassinet with extensive, forceful displays to protect. It can peck the neck and head of a threatening bird.

Moms are less aggressive; nevertheless, she will defend the nest if necessary. It is a joint mom and pop operation.

The Female is duller than her male mate, displaying a buff brown neck and upper breast. She does display white and silver on her wings like her male counterpart. In her breeding plumage, she too exhibits magnificent neon green lores and neon blue eye-ring around striking, bright red eyes.

Mom will lay 2 to 5 bluish-white or pale green eggs. Incubation lasts 25 to 30 days and both parents participate.

I would like to add, even after mating and while caring for chicks, the couple can express touching affection toward one other, and even signal with their body movements … body and beak-touching.

Ornithologists have observed Anhingas performing loving acts when changing egg incubation duties—the couples for life intertwine necks and pass nesting material when changing positions.

Chicks hatch free of feathers though they may display some white and dark down on the sides of their body. They are brooded or nursed by both parents for 12 days.

First, parents feed chicks by dripping fluid and the regurgitation of fish directly into their open throats. When chicks become older, juveniles, they place their heads into parents’ bills, then thrust them in their throats to obtain aquatic delights, as seen in my video. At this age, they beg unceasingly for meals for their insatiable appetites; and can be quite aggressive as they pester their parents. Obviously, this stage requires far more work for Mom and Dad. These adolescent chicks resemble human teenage boys who seem to have a belly which never registers full.

The chicks are totally dependent upon their parents for three weeks. After the three-week stage, they can climb on a branch near the nest and start exercising their wings, beginning the swerve to independence.

If the young are threatened at their nest at three weeks of age, they are able to drop into the water below and perform a swim-escape.

They fledge or fly at about six weeks. However, they will remain with their parents for several weeks following.

After a length of weeks, the white down on the feathers turns dark; this when maturing into adulthood.

Young reach their sexual maturity at about 2 years old.

The Anhinga does not call out in lovely tones and is mostly silent. If it speaks, it is in a raspy, croaking voice … and signals its mind with snaps, squawks and grunts.

No need for the Anhingas to migrate in their all-year warm range from the coastal areas of the southwest of the US—North Carolina to Texas. This ave also resides in Mexico, Central America, Panama and Cuba. In South America, it is found from Colombia to Ecuador, and from east of the Andes to Argentina. Anhingas thrive in tropical and subtropical regions all around the globe. Many in the world are blessed by their loveliness.

The longevity of these birds is twelve years. God is gracious to allow these flyers length of life.

Letter to bird enthusiast:

In gracious appreciation for information gathered from various websites.


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