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BirdNote: The Snake Bird

Air Date: Week of

A Snakebird, or Anhinga, snaking along in a Louisiana bayou. (Photo: Mike Hamilton)

As it snakes along just below the surface of a Louisiana bayou, you can see how the long-necked Anhinga got its nickname. BirdNote’s Michael Stein says its serrated beak make it a danger to fish.



CURWOOD: We head now into the steamy wilderness of a Louisiana bayou, where, as Michael Stein explains in today’s Birdnote, some birds can be, well, downright weird.

Anhingas — Snakebirds!

[Bayou sounds from http://birdnote.org/show/morning-bayou]

Spanish moss hangs eerily from cypress trees rising from the black water of a Louisiana bayou. The water ripples where a slender form glides just beneath the surface. At first glance, it appears to be a snake. But look closer, and you just might see a long, narrow spike of a beak at the tip of a slender neck. It’s a Snakebird, a colloquial name for the Anhinga, swimming with just its head and neck above the water.

[Anhinga call, https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/136256, 0.06-.08]

Anhingas belong to a small group of birds called the darters, and they look a bit like cormorants.

[Anhinga call, https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/136256, 0.06-.08]

Anhinga drying off. (Photo: Mike Hamilton)

When hunting fish, an Anhinga hangs motionless in the water or swims slowly just below the surface, its neck crooked, almost like a cobra’s. The Anhinga has specialized muscles and a hinge in its neck. And when an unwary fish swims close, the bird’s head darts forward, impaling its prey.
Backward slanted serrations keep the fish from slipping off.
Surfacing with its beak held just slightly open, the bird flicks the fish upward and catches it in mid-air. Then it downs it headfirst.
And, once again, the Anhinga glides through the black water. I’m Michael Stein.

[Bayou sounds from http://birdnote.org/show/morning-bayou]

Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 136256 recorded by Martha J. Fischer.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org July 2017 Narrator: Michael Stein



The story on the BirdNote website

Learn more about the Anhinga, or Snakebird, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology


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