Female Anhinga atop its nest.
My first winter foray to the rookery at Wakodahatchee this year was a cold day by Florida standards. While cold weather can be invigorating, it can also make us want to snuggle up in our nests and doze the afternoon away. The nest sitting Great Blue Herons and Anhingas must have felt the same way! While the Great blues were nestled down and rather hidden from view among the twigs that will serve as a protective crib for the future hatchlings, the Anhinga nests were in plain view. Anhingas for as long as they have been observed are anything but inconspicuous with their striking black and white back feathers and alert snake-like undulations of their necks and heads as they peer around, quickly back and forth, seeming alert to the slightest sound or movement.
Anhingas have been known by different names over time: Audubon noted that the Creoles of Louisiana called it “Bec a` Lancette” for the appearance of its bill which can skewer a fish easily. Some called it a “Water Crow”. I can’t help but think due to the iridescent sheen it shares with the more common black birds? Audubon stated that in southern parts of Florida the anhinga is called “Grecian Lady” although I know of no one today who uses that reference. But, I rather like it and it feels fitting to me.Other names include “Snake Bird” and sometimes “Black-bellied Darter” altough the latter could only refer to the male with its black chest and underbody. But, whatever you call them, they have a very inquisitive and alert demeanor even seemingly at rest on a cold day.
The pictures below show both male and female anhingas taking their turns on the nest. The male anhinga has always amazed me with its velvet black feathers which catch iridescent greens in the light. The black seeming to have endless depths and dimension. The head plumes on the male anhinga can be quite shaggy making a rather punk hairdo of its tufts of copper and white…and when erect form a rather regal head piece. (as per this image) The female has a golden brown chest with more sparse tufts of white head plumes. These amazing creatures sit on a platform that seems about two feet in diameter formed of dry twigs laid crosswize in a circular direction. The greener twigs often have leaves or berries still attached, and in this area, also bits of cypress leaves are present. Anhinga nests are typically positioned in low bushes or among the lower branches of bigger trees over water. Audubon’s observations that this is generally no more than eight or ten feet above the water seems to be consistent with the nests I have seen. Anhingas are known to return to breed in the same nest from year to year. Of course, that can be tricky in a busy rookery when the nest you vacated is disassembled by other species to incorporate into their nests so quickly. But, even so, I am sure I have taken pictures of the same anhingas in rather the same spots from year to year. Always coming home seems an event we are lucky to be witness to.
The two Audubon images I included in this post along with these recent shots are to show his versions of the male and female anhinga to better see their different features. The first drawing shows a parallel body position of the bonded pair which is so typical in observation of these birds during breeding season. But, Audubon felt because the male drawing covers up most of the female that from a naturalist point of view did not show good scientific comparison. The second drawing became Plate 316 in The Birds of America and Havell, the engraver added the scenic background with distant anhingas perched above the water from other Audubon sketches.
Male Anhinga nest sitting! I love those shaggy head plumes and ruby eyes.
Sleepy Female Anhinga
She awakens with a big yawn.
Final Plate 316 of Audubon’s The Birds of America, The Anhinga or Snake-Bird