Anhinga Birds, Habitat, Sounds, Diet, and More

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Scientific Classification

AnimaliaChordataVertebrataAvesNeornithesNeoavesSuliformesAnhingidaeAnhingaAnhinga anhinga


The anhinga, sometimes called the snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey, is a type of water bird that is primarily found in the warmer parts of the Americas. This word comes from the Tupi language of Brazil; it is called a’ñinga there, and it means “snake bird” or “devil bird”. Because only its

neck emerges above the water’s surface, like a snake ready to strike, the bird’s aquatic behaviors give rise to the significance of its name. Notably, they breathe through their epiglottis instead of their external nares, or nostrils. As a member of the Anhingidae darter family, they are closely related to other darters,

including the Australian (novaehollandiae), African , and Indian species. Like its darter cousins, they hunts using its narrow, sharp beak, and it is especially good at spearing fish and other tiny game. This unique bird is a fascinating subject to study and observe, showcasing great swimming prowess as it navigates water bodies.



  • Nicknames: Snakebird, water turkey
  • Appearance: Long neck, sharp beak
  • Distinctive Behavior: Swims with only neck visible, resembling a snake
  • Breathing: Lacks external nostrils, breathes through epiglottis
  • Habitat: Found in the warmer parts of the Americas
  • Distribution and Migration: Populates wooded swamps, marshes, and ponds; specific migration patterns
  • Description: Large bird, measuring approximately 89 cm (35 in) in length, with a 1.14 m (3.7 ft) wingspan; males are black with white streaks
  • Behavior: Often seen perched on snags above water, wings half-spread to dry
  • Diet: Skilled fish hunter, using sharp beak to spear fish and small prey
  • Conservation Status: Listed as “Least Concern” with a decreasing population
  • Family: Belongs to the darter family
  • Identification: Easily recognizable in its habitat


It is a large bird, measuring approximately 89 cm (35 in) in length on average, with a range of 75 to 95 cm (30 to 37 in). The wingspan is around 1.14 meters (3.7 feet) long.Notably, the A. a. anhinga subspecies exhibits a larger size compared to the A. a. leucogaster and features broader

buffy tail tips. In terms of weight, these avian species typically weigh around 1.22 kg (2.7 lb), with individual variations ranging between 1.04 and 1.35 kg (2.3 to 3.0 lb). A distinctive characteristic lies in their elongated, yellow, and sharply pointed bill, measuring approximately twice the length of their skull.

Their webbed feet are also the same shade of yellow. Males have glossy black-green plumage with a remarkable glossy black-blue coloration on the wings, base of the wings, and tail. The white tip of the tail sticks out, adding a unique touch. The distinctive appearance can be

attributed to the elongated feathers on the back of the head and neck, which are described as either gray or light purple-white. The stunning white dots or streaks on the top back of the body and wings add to the bird’s overall visual appeal.

With the exception of its pale gray-buff or light brown head, neck, and upper breast, the female is similar to the male. The back is darker than that of a man, and the lower chest or breast is chestnut in hue. Their hatchling is bald when it first hatches and has no feathers

for the duration of its life. A tan down appears a few days after hatching, which progressively gives the hatchling a more textured appearance. In two weeks, this tan down will change and be replaced by a white down. When the hatchling is three weeks post-hatching, its first set of

juvenile feathers begin to show. The plumage is primarily brown during the juvenile stage, which usually lasts until the bird’s second or third winter. They doesn’t change in color until after this time, especially when it gets closer to the age of first reproducing. Because of their

similar size and form, they and the double-crested cormorant are commonly confused. On the other hand, if one concentrates on the tails and bills of these two species, it is easy to tell them apart. Their stail is noticeably longer and wider than the cormorant’s. Their bills also

have a distinguishing characteristic: their bill is pointed, whilst the cormorant’s bill has a characteristic hook-tip. The two bird species can be distinguished from one another primarily by these minute but important characteristics.


Species in same Genus

SpeciesCommon Name
melanogasterIndian Darter
novaehollandiaeAustralian Darter
rufaAfrican Darter

Distribution and Migration

Around the world, this species live in warm, shallow waters. Particularly, the American Snakebird/water turkey has been divided into two subspecies, A. a. leucogaster and A. a. anhinga, which are distinguished by their respective geographic ranges. It is primarily found in South

America east of the Andes, reaching as far as the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. A. a. leucogaster, on the other hand, is found in Grenada, Mexico, Cuba, and the southern United States. Notably, they walterbolesi, a fossil species from Australia’s Late Oligocene to Early

Miocene eras, has been identified. The adaptability of this species to diverse aquatic conditions across continents and their evolutionary history are highlighted by this distribution pattern. They migrate mostly in the far north and south of their ecological range in response to

changes in temperature and sunshine availability. These birds migrate toward the equator in the winter, and the amount of sunshine needed to warm the birds determines how far they migrate. Remarkably, reports of their outside of its usual range have been made; sightings have been

claimed as far north as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New York in the United States. Kettles of their frequently migrate with other bird species, producing an impressive sight akin to that of black paper gliders in flight. This cooperative migration technique emphasizes how they may

blend in with a variety of avian populations throughout seasonal transitions and how dynamic their movements are.



  • They swim using webbed feet, hunting and spearing prey underwater.
  • They surface to handle and swallow fish after successful hunting.
  • Unlike ducks and pelicans, they lack waterproof feathers, getting soaked in water.
  • Due to non-waterproof feathers, they cannot stay afloat on water for extended periods.
  • Dense bones, wet plumage, and neutral buoyancy enable full submersion for underwater prey searches.
  • Inability to fly long distances with wet feathers; difficulty in flapping while “running” on water.
  • Drying posture, similar to cormorants, involves standing with wings spread and feathers fanned open.
  • This posture helps absorb solar radiation, countering rapid body heat loss.
  • Colloquially referred to as ‘water turkey’ or ‘swamp turkey‘ due to resemblance to a male turkey in the drying position.


The main food sources for them include insects, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and fairly sized wetland fish. Fish like as mullet, sunfish, black bass, catfish, suckers, and chain pickerel are among the foods they eat in Alabama. Other foods include crayfish, crabs, shrimp, water insects,

tadpoles, water snakes, and small terrapins. In Florida, they mostly consume live fish such as pupfish and percids, as well as sunfish, bass, and killifish. They use a stalking technique when submerged, especially in regions with some vegetation. When they see something to stab, they

split their bills open and quickly stab the fish. They use both their lower and upper jaws on larger fish, but use the lower jaw on smaller ones. Before releasing a fish that is too big for them to manage, Snakebird stab it several times.

They drag their catch up to the surface of the water, flip it over, and swallow it whole.



Threats Description
Habitat LossDestruction or alteration of natural habitats.
Human DisturbanceDisruption caused by human activities, including tourism.
PollutionContamination of water bodies and surroundings.
Climate ChangeAltered climate patterns affecting habitats and prey.
Nesting Site DisruptionDisturbance to nesting areas, affecting breeding success.

Conservation Status

The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects them in the United States. Although their exact number of existence is unknown, they are classified as “Least Concern” since they are found throughout their vast global range of 15,000,000 km2 (5,800,000 sq mi).


Common Names in Different Languages

LanguageCommon Name
Arabicطائر الأنهينجا
SwahiliNdege wa


The precise lifespan of their in the wild is unknown and can change depending on a number of variables, including the environment and the likelihood of predation. Certain related species of birds have been observed to live for roughly 15 to 20 years in captivity. It is significant to remember that a variety of factors, such as environment, food availability, and predator presence, can affect a wild bird’s longevity.


They are noted for being nimble flyers, and the goal of the flight, the weather, and the behavior of individual birds can all affect the pace at which they can travel. Given that they are aquatic birds, they may not fly as quickly as certain other bird species that are suited for rapid, continuous flight. However, bird flight rates can vary greatly.


Generally speaking, they are calm birds. They might make noises, although these are usually restricted to low hisses, croaks, and grunts. Soft, guttural croaks or grunts may be heard during mating displays or interactions. They do not, however, have the same reputation as several other bird species for having complex or unique songs.



1. What is an water turkey/Snakebird?

  • The warmer regions of the Americas are home to the water bird known as an turkey/Snakebird . Its long neck, pointed beak, and capacity to swim underwater are among its most recognizable features.

2. Why is it called a “Snakebird”?

  • The are known as the “Snakebird” because of its long neck, which resembles a snake and is visible above the water when swimming. It looks like a snake that is about to attack because of this.

3. What is the scientific name of the water turkey?

  • The scientific name of their is Anhinga anhinga.

4. Where are water turkey found?

  • All around the planet, they live in warm shallow waters. With subspecies in South America, the southern United States, Mexico, Cuba, and other areas, they are primarily found in the Americas.

5. How do Snakebird hunt for food?

  • They use their keen, narrow beaks to spear fish and other small prey while hunting. They stab fish underwater, flinging and devouring them head-first as they swim with their bodies submerged.

6. Can Snakebird fly long distances?

  • Wet feathers make it harder for them to fly. To take off, they frequently “run” a short distance over the water. They extended their wings to let the sun’s heat dry them off.

7. What is their conservation status?

  • In terms of their conservation status, they are regarded as “Least Concern”. This classification is a result of its widespread distribution and regular occurrence.

8. Do Snakebird migrate?

  • During the winter, they move towards the equator, and how much sunlight they receive affects this migration. Some individuals have been discovered in US states as far north as Pennsylvania and New York.

9. How do Snakebird differ from Cormorants?

  • They are often mistaken for Double-crested Cormorants, but they can be differentiated by their tails and bills. They have wider and longer tails and pointed bills, while Cormorants have hooked bills.

10. Are Snakebird protected by law?

  • Indeed, the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States protects them

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