Nesting Anhingas

Nesting Female Anhinga

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

 Male Anhinga nest sitting! I love those shaggy head plumes and ruby eyes.

Female Anhinga Sleeps on Nest

Sleepy Female Anhinga

Female Anhinga-Yawn_8169-wps

She awakens with a big yawn.

Audubon - Anhinga mating pair - early version prior to drawing chosen for Plate 316 in Birds of America

Anhinga mating pair picture which became Plate 316 in Audubon's Birds of America.

Final Plate 316 of Audubon’s The Birds of America, The Anhinga or Snake-Bird


~ by Judy on February 1, 2015.

17 Responses to “Nesting Anhingas”

  1. Given how wary they are, how easy was it to get a picture of a sleepy anhinga?

    • In this case not difficult and in fact easier than when they are up and doing. The rookery I go to has a substantial boardwalk and the birds while wild are not totally unaccustomed to the sight of people who only look or point cameras at them. Birds will be a bit less skittish when no threat is perceived from a familiar sight or maybe even a new sight not associated with danger. But, Anhingas are constantly moving and darting about and so focus can be an issue when trying to keep up. The Anhingas did seem more lethargic that usual to me, but perhaps that can be attributed to the temperatures. Even though its nothing compared to where you are!! Oh my for sure!!

  2. these are really elegant birds!! great photos!!

    • Even though I always thought Anhingas were snappy dressers, I tended to focus more on the Great Herons. Over time though, I have become increasingly fascinated with this personable species and how elegant they really are.

      Thank you for dropping by for the images and your comment!!

  3. Anhinga, another bird unfamiliar to me. Thanks for their detailed description and your marvelous photos!

    • Come on down to Florida where the Anhinga is a frequent sight on marina pilings and nautical markers with wings outspread drying them!! Not to mention, its a heck of a lot warmer!! 🙂

  4. I take it the anhinga is a member of the heron family? It certainly has the defining characteristics, though I’m willing to be wrong. I’ve not heard of it before. Fantastic photos. as always. I like that you included Audobon’s illustrations. He makes them appear as some kind of mythical creature from a medieval bestiary! Truly, a Snake-Bird (or should that be Bird-Snake?)

    • I thought at first that Herons and Anhingas were together through Order: Pelecaniformes and separated when you get to Families: Herons are Ardeidae and Anhingas are Anhingidae. But, Anhingas were determined to not belong in the same Order as Herons and now are in the Order: Suliformes with frigate birds and darters etc. Although, the bill of the Anhinga is more like a heron’s than a Frigate bird’s. The Family name is still Anhingidae though.

      I agree the Audubon’s drawings do show that unnatural, mythical snake like movement of the neck. But, that is what makes photographing anhingas difficult sometimes…they seem to be perpetually moving their necks in a sinuous way and then have that quick way of looking first one way then the other. The chicks have that same wavy or wavery movement only more tremulous. Interesting birds.

      • I’m surprised they’re different orders as well as families. But those who classify have rigid criteria, details of which aren’t always visible to us lay-observers. But beautiful birds, all the same.

      • It seems that the Order Suliformes is as recently established as 2010. The previous taxonomic grouping was deemed to not reflect the evolutionary relationships. One of the features concerned the presence of 4 webbed toes instead of three, which is true of the anhinga. The more that is learned from a genetic point of view will probably cause shifts in the groupings. Bird taxonomy has been a most changeable situation even just taking the issue of the Great Blue Heron and the Great White Heron into consideration. Makes it interesting. I suppose I’d like to be a lumper, but I think probably I am a splitter being very attracted to differences…and well naming in general!

      • Gosh, sorry for the delay. Two of your comments got lost in the new system. But I’ve found them now. 🙂 As to the above, I think I’m probably a lumper. I tend to see sufficient similarities to group things together, even if nature intended otherwise.

  5. What incredibly sweet portraits… Those breeding colors are just divine. And I love the Audubon comparisons, too!

    • Yeah, it is hard to not go and see what Audubon said or painted when looking at the birds. I love his love for the work he did. Hard to think of anhingas as sweet until you do see them at their nests. They still have that hyper aware look even bound by needing to stay put and incubate the eggs.

  6. I love the touch of teal in the male’s feathers. But those necks! My goodness, wouldn’t you like to be that limber?

    I took a good look at our cormorants today, and I think I could distinguish them from the anhingas now. Both are exceedingly interesting. Do the anhingas dive to fish, too? And are they good underwater? With those long, sleek bodies, I’ll be they’re faster in the water than in the air.

    The nests are amazing. How they hold together, I’ll never know. They clearly know what they’re doing, though. I brought home a nest last year that had fallen from a palm tree. It was an old one, that had belonged to some boat-tailed grackles. I had a brief thought of trying to disassemble it, just to see how easy it would be, but I quickly learned it would be a lot of effort. The thing was really well-knit. So, I left it alone, and it’s gracing a shelf in the bathroom.

    • I know I marvel at those flexible necks since every morning I seem to have a crick in mine!! The big heron nests seem to be somewhat loosely constructed but I haven’t held them up close. All the of birds are constantly arranging and reinforcing the twigs. Last year after an anhinga nest was vacated I was entertained watching a cattle egret come out of the center of the tree and pluck at a twig and wiggle it out of the nest and return numerous times harvesting the work of others. Did I saw birds can be lazy….or maybe smart..why fly to Timbuktu if there are twigs laying there in a convenient heap.

  7. I like the way you carried your avian theme into the statement that cold weather “can also make us want to snuggle up in our nests and doze the afternoon away.”

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