Friday, October 26, 2007

Heaven on Earth: Anhinga anhinga!



Anhinga anhinga (sometimes called Snakebird because of its long thin neck, sometimes called Water Turkey because of its silly tail feathers, though I know it as Anhinga) swims completely submerged in the swamps, the canals, the lagoons, the mangrove-bordered bays, the coastal streams, chasing after fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, leeches, shrimps, tadpoles, frog eggs, young alligators and water snakes. Mostly fish, though, which it catches by stabbing them with its beak. Then it swims and waddles up onto the shore, where it throws the fish off its beak and into the air, catching it in its waiting, open beak, swallowing it whole. Unlike ducks, Anhinga anhinga has no oil glands, which means its feathers get wet when it swims. It must stretch out its wings in the sun to dry off, which is what the male bird in the photo is doing. One often sees them soaring in the sky like hawks. Sometimes you'll just see the snake-like neck and long beak sticking out from the surface of the water, swimming past. But my favorite is when they extend their four feet of wings and soak up the hot Florida sun. They are ugly birds, to be sure, and one of my favorite. Years ago Danica and I played a game in Boulder where we had to pick an object to have as a god. I don't remember what I chose then, but now I choose Anhinga anhinga.

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