Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Snakebird, I love you

Spindly yet striking, the anhinga is perhaps my favorite bird. Lesser souls may find the anhinga to be an ugly, awkward and vulgar creature, but these people have no taste and should not be listened to. No doubt these are the same folks who endowed the anhinga with its other, less glamorous names: Snakebird, or alternatively, Water Turkey.

How anyone can spend any time watching an anhinga live its life and not become an admirer is beyond me.

An anhinga has initiative. These enterprising birds dive right into the water to chase down their supper. Unlike the buoyant duck, the feathers of an anhinga are not coated with oils, so they can quickly get waterlogged. This allows them to swim for quite some time in search of fish.

And what a spectacle that is. Sometimes you can follow the progress of the submerged anhinga just by watching the water that's stirred up by fish trying to get away from it. Once they've emerged from the water, they have to spread out their wings to dry. While they're airing their feathers, they chatter noisily among themselves.

Recently, I was lucky enough to watch one of these characters catch and consume a meal. Between myself and spouse, we captured video and still images of the event. Here's the video. Forgive the running commentary from the four-year old, and the clicks of my shutter in the background.

I watched this same bird for another hour afterward. She'd spear a catfish (an exotic species in the Fakahatchee Strand), and she'd beat it against a branch for several minutes. Apparently, she has to make sure it's really, really dead before she swallows it, lest it thrash around and cut up her throat with its spines. I got no footage of this process; unfortunately, the above video took the last of my video camera's battery.

But the next day in Everglades National Park, I had the good fortune to run across a nest of anhinga chicks, and I'd had the foresight to charge my battery. Here's a (too) short clip of the two-day old chicks. I didn't want to spend too much time around the nest.

1 comment:

JLB said...

How cool! Thanks so much for sharing these!