The Anhinga’s Evening Routine

It sat in the shallow algae covered waters of the lake. Its long black neck snaked out of the water. With its knife-like beak, it flipped its catch in the air, turned it around, and swallowed the fish whole. In a flash, it was below the water again. Not even a ripple stirred on the water. It was completely submerged, searching for its next catch.

Anhinga fishing in the water Corrinne Brumby

These birds always amazed me with their masterful swimming and fishing skills. Most waterfowl like ducks, coots, and herons, all stay above the water. Ducks partially submerge sticking their beaks in the water, leaving their bottoms sticking in the air and their webbed feet kicking. But anhingas dive completely into the water.

In a quick motion, leading with their head, they go completely under coming up 30 seconds later with a fish that it swallows whole. Many other fishing birds don’t even dive for their fish. Herons, egrets, spoonbills, and storks all wade in the water and submerge only the end of their long beaks to catch their prey.

The anhinga is agile. I watched this one anhinga hunt. Within a few minutes it had caught more than four fish in the same manner, diving for no more than a minute at a time, and each time it came up with a fish and took a moment to wriggle it around in its beak and swallow it before diving back under the water.

It’s common to see anhingas perched on the water’s edge at any of the lakes in Florida. They sit there with their wings outstretched, drying their feathers, and soaking in the sun. But this time I got to see one in the water, fishing for its evening meal.

The anhinga continued to inch its way up the branch and shake its feathers vigorously. Droplets of water flew off in all directions. Then it spread its wings stretching them out and letting them dry in the setting sun. But just letting them sit there wasn’t enough.

The anhinga began beating its wings in a steady rhythm and moving its long neck. Unlike other birds, however, this bird’s dance wasn’t for show, it was more practical; it was the drying off dance. The dance seemed effective; its shiny black feathers fluffed on all sides. The anhinga had a successful evening eating its fill, and now it was winding down on its cozy tree as the sun set across the lake.

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