At Home with Anhingas

As a preface to sharing these images of our Florida nesting Anhingas, I thought I would share the charm of a longish excerpt from John James Audubon’s entry on The Anhinga or Snake-Bird (Plotus anhinga, Linne) from his Ornithological Biographies. Audubon provided his records of observation of the birds of America along with the Birds of America prints ordered by his lucky subscribers!! Although, can you believe it, some complained that the beautiful double-elephant portfolio prints were TOO BIG!! As much as I love the birds themselves, I was a late comer to knowing the charm of the woodsman and artist as expressed in these volumes. He was a bit of a showman too with his stories.

“Many sultry summer days I have passed amidst the most dismal swamps of the secluded woods of Louisiana, watching with anxiety and in silence the curious habits of the Anhinga; the female bird now sitting closely on her eggs, in a nest constructed by herself and securely placed on the widely extended branch of the tallest cypress, that if by magic planted, stood in the midst of an ample lake, while with keen eyes she watched every motion of the wily Buzzard and cunning Crow, lest either of these cowardly marauders might deprive her of her treasures; the partner of her cares and joys meanwhile, with outspread wings and fan-like tail, soaring on high, and glancing first anxiously towards her he loves, then in anger towards one and all of their numerous enemies. In wider and bolder circles he moves, rising higher and still higher, until at length becoming a mere dusky speck, he almost vanishes from my sight amidst the expanse of blue sky; but now, suddenly closing his wings, and rushing downwards like a meteor, I see him instantly alight erect upon the edge of the nest, and complacently gaze upon his beloved.

After some time, about three weeks perhaps, I have found the eggs shells beneath the great cypress tree, cast out of the nest by the intelligent and attentive mother, and floating on the green slime of the stagnant pool. Climbing to the nest itself, I have seen the tender young clad in down far softer than our sea-island cottons, writhing their slender and tremulous necks, and with open mouths and extended pouches seeking, as all infants are wont to seek, the food suited to their delicate frame. Then, retiring to some concealed spot, I have seen the mother arrive with a supply of finely masticated nutriment, compounded of various fishes from the lake, and furnish each of her progeny by regurgitation with its due proportion. …At length, after waiting many days in succession, I have seen them stand, in an almost erect posture, on a space scarcely large enough to contain them. The parents seemed aware of the condition of their brood, and, affectionate as they still appeared to be, I thought their manner towards them was altered, and I felt grieved. Indeed, sorely grieved I was when, next week, I saw them discharge, as it were, their children, and force them from the nest into the waters that were spread below…..I saw them hurled into the air, and alight on the water. But, Reader, Nature in all this had acted beneficially; and I afterwards found that in thus expelling their young so soon, the old birds had in view to rear another brood in the same spot, before the commencement of unfavourable weather.”

Hungry Anhinga Chicks in nest with Mom

Anhinga chicks at home with Mom!

The female  has a golden chest and dark brown head. The adult male anhinga  has a dark chest with dark head and coppery head feathers.


Anhina Chick presents his profile

Young anhinga poses nicely amid tangled branches of his nesting colony. 


Anhinga Chick beneath its nest

Anhinga chick beneath its nest. 


Fuzzy Anhinga Chicks with heads tucked in feathers 

 Anhinga chicks with heads tucked at their backs in between the wings. The little pink skin head and curious eye are not completely concealed between the feathers. The slate blue quills from which the feathers grow can be seen on the tail feathers quite well.


Anhinga Chicks with necks entwined looking to parent for food 

Looking a bit naked and cold and like plucked chickens, these young anhinga chicks clambor for food from their Dad getting all tangled up together in the process. Little pink skin heads look fragile and these guys are pretty helpless without their parents. 


Anghina Chicks Sway in Tandem seeking food from Dad

Competing for a chance to get fed, anhinga chicks seem to dance in tandem swaying with heads and necks parallel together at their parent’s face. This activity is very sinuous and in constant motion as the chicks chatter out their hunger. Avian parents always amaze me with their steadfast dedication to this task.


Anghina Dad feeding chicks-one waits his turn

At last one chick is being fed while the other waits in line not so patiently for dinner!! The first time I observed anhinga feeding I thought it was an aggressive attack as one anhinga threw itself down the throat of the other. My first view was of older chicks and I did not entirely understand what the ruckus was. The great herons are regurgitation feeders but drop the food into the chicks mouths..mostly..whereas the anhinga chicks are trained to dive right in.


I hope that you will discover the writings of Audubon as part of the fun of it is that observations today are much similar and the flavor of his observations are rooted in time.



~ by Judy on March 16, 2013.

15 Responses to “At Home with Anhingas”

  1. Fantastic photos of these youngsters! What a great find, I really like the anhingas they are amazing birds! Super job done with these!

    • A big thank you to you!! I find anhingas to be among the more difficult to photograph sometimes. The move so sinuously and will so abruptly turn their heads…they are most interesting to watch. I only learned recently that the female is sometimes called “The Grecian Lady”…and I can see that.

  2. Nice balance of pictures and text, both Audubon’s and your own.

    • Thank you Brian!! I am glad you like the text and know that you are particularly aware of the nuances of language and they can reveal the when of the actual writing. I love those old styles..kind of like the differences between Lovecraft and Mieville in writing style and flavor…locked in time.

      • I’m curious to try Mieville, have “Embassytown” in my to-read pile. And you probably saw the discussion I had on yesterday’s post with an old friend of mine over differences in style between Hammett and Chandler, differences that in part are because Hammett preceded Chandler.

      • Oh, do read Mieville!! I stumbled upon ‘Perdido Street Station’ browsing paperbacks with my mother at a used paperback book shop. I was first attracted to the cover which featured an evocative looking amber town image with a white birds wing against a black background beneath. Something about that birds wing. I did not realize any significance and did not know what a garuda was until I was introduced by the book. I never read ‘King Rat’ though I’d heard of it and that was written before this. Perdido was his second book. This is one of the most original books I have ever read…I can’t wait to see what you think of it!! Do not read comments on it cold and let it unfold, it is a wonder!!

      • It’s on my list just as soon as I finish “Anna Karenina” and “Rebecca”!

  3. I have a colored drawing of an anhinga on my wall, first time ever drawing one. They are cool looking birds.

    • Hi Roberta! I went over and looked at the drawing and thought it looked very accurate and nice. I know I would not be able to draw one from memory if at all. Thanks for checking out these little guys.

  4. Great series of Kodak moments, plus interesting nature discussion.

  5. LOVE the anhinga baby-time! Also fascinating Audubon selection, as always….

    • When I first saw anhinga chicks I was totally more enraptured with the Great Blue Heron nestlings and so didn’t pay much attention to them. Can’t conceive that now though as Anhingas are truly among the most interesting of birds! I love their alert quick movement and that snakelike undulation they do. Photographically I find it interesting how the velvety blacks of their coloring absorb all the light and can leave you with such absence of detail at times. Dark as space.

  6. I’m just astonished by the difference in coloration between the chicks and the adults. I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it! The photos are wonderful, and beautifully capture the sense of delight in Audubon’s words.

    This is an odd thought – I wonder if some of the attraction of the natural world today is that the behavior and bonds between parent and young are vestigal reminders of the relationship that used to be assumed in human families. Even in families where parents weren’t so loving and attentive, they were as likely as anyone to sense the lack. I don’t know – I’m just reading and seeing around me so many one-parent families and dysfunctional parents. It’s sad, and it’s restorative to see the bonds that are so clear in nature.

    • A perfect observation on the sense of delight in Audubon’s written observations. That is the sense I get too..a certain childlike wonder in the woodsman and his irrepressible drive to wander, record, and draw. In spite of certain losses of some of his work, the accounts I have read seem to indicate that he didn’t mourn too long but rather resolved to do it again, better. On one occasion he’d been away a year and returned fondly looking forward to seeing again some paintings he’d left stored in a box, only to find that a family of mice had made a home among his watercolors and of course they were in shreds.

      He does imbue his accounts of certain behaviors with human sensibilities which makes them all the more endearing. But, the behaviours of nesting birds and the chick rearing does not need that for us to see the example nature gives us of the bonding during the nesting season and which we can take something from. Jokingly I remarked to a lady asking me questions about the nesting Great Blue Herons how equitably those mates shared the nest building, egg incubation, and food getting for their young….and they were such a good example to human men. Within earshot of some male photogs with mega, macho, camoulflage lenses, I did receive a chagrined glance or two!! That was fun!! Ahh well!!

      Oh, yes, I was surprised to at the appearance of the Anhinga young when I first saw them. I do not recall what I thought they would be like either. The heron young seemed as one might expect even with the first view.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!!

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