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Meet the Amazing Anhinga

You’ve no doubt seen their unmistakable silhouette; those outstretched wings and long, graceful neck belong to the Anhinga. Learn why this sleek American darter is also referred to as a Snake Bird.

Great swimmers and adept hunters, Anhingas spend a lot of time underwater. Seen in waterways, with only their beak pointed skyward and body submerged, they are sometimes mistaken for water snakes.

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Photo: Anhinga, National Audubon Society

Somewhat unique among birds, the bones of Anhingas are dense and their feathers non-oily. Barely bouyant, these adaptations aid diving and underwater swimming. Like other darters, they hunt by spearing fish and small prey with their long, slender beak.

Keep an eye on Adventure Coast shorelines for thrashing-type activity when the birds return with speared catches. They bang their beak against rocks or other hard surfaces to subdue prey before eating. The Anhinga’s diet consists mainly of fish, but they also eat aquatic insects, crayfish, shrimp and even young alligators and water snakes.

The Anhinga is one of the Adventure Coast’s most abundant and recognizable water birds. Because they don’t have oil glands or water repellent feathers, you can often see Anhingas relying on the sun to dry their wings and warm their bodies.

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See them along shorelines and in treetops with their wings and tail feathers spread wide and face turned toward the sun as they dry out. “Running” on the water with wings flapping vigorously is another wing-drying technique.

Anhinga or Cormorant?
Anhingas are often mistaken for Double-Breasted Cormorants. You can see both diving water birds around Florida’s Adventure Coast. How can you tell the difference?

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Photo: Cormorant (L), Anhinga (R) Tammy Karr, iheartfloridabirds.blogspot.com

Key among their differences is the beak; the Anhinga boasts a sharply pointed bill and the Cormorant a hooked-tip bill.

Anhingas have long tails and white markings along the back. Those long tails are the reason for their other nick-name: Turkey Birds.

Enjoy watching Anhingas in and out of the water throughout Nature’s Place to Play.

Learn more about the amazing Anhinga:

Audubon Society

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology