Thursday, 26 February 2015

B.O.T.D. Black-Necked Stilt

B.O.T.D. Feb 26, 2015

Black-Necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

Long ago nicknamed the lawyer bird (for its persistent noisiness during the mating season), the black-necked stilt was, like many other wading birds, hunted nearly into extinction in the 19th century. Fortunately, lawmakers intervened in time to allow most of the threatened species to recover. Now the black-backed stilt is seen often its favourite breeding areas in the south and west.

And it is a memorable sight, making its feeding forays into both fresh and saltwater ponds atop the exceptionally long legs for which it is named - perhaps the longest in relation to body size of any bird's. The black-necked stilt is also a master at assuring its own air-conditioning during the breeding season. It keeps its ventral feathers wet by making as many as 100 trips daily from the nest to the nearest water, so that evaporation will help cool the parent, its eggs, and eventually its nestlings. Without such a cooling system, a female stilt could perish while spending an especially hot day motionless on her nest.

Breeding in a variety of locales - moist savannahs, pond edges, marshes, and fields with a history of flooding - back-necked stilts may form colonies of about 40 pairs. When all are busy fishing, their long legs bent in shallow waters and needle-line bills poised for action, they form an almost dreamlike silhouette against sunset or dawn.