A southern fish-eating water bird, the Anhinga nests along with the herons and egrets at the Venice Area Audubon Rookery. It is about 3 feet in length, has a long sharply-pointed bill for spearing fish, and a long rudder-shaped tail. The male has a long, thin black neck while the female’s neck and breast is a buff color. The birds have silvery wing patches. The immature Anhinga has a brownish neck.
When it dives underwater, the Anhinga’s plumage becomes very wet, but the feathers do not lack water proofing oils; rather, the structure of the feathers allows water into the tiny spaces inside them. The result is a loss of buoyancy that helps the Anhinga submerge and forage. After feeding, the Anhinga perches in the sun with its wings spread to dry. It has poor insulating feathers to protect from the cold, so it may keep its wings spread even after dry to maximize heat to warm its body.
The Anhinga can vary its buoyancy in the water, with only its neck and head protruding, earning it the name Snakebird. When in flight, the Anhinga’s tail may be spread wide as the bird soars high on outstretched wings.
During breeding, the bare facial skin and eye of the male become blue-green, and lacy black-and-white plumes appear on the head and neck. At most times, the Anhinga is silent, but around nesting colonies they make various croaking and clicking sounds.
Their usual nesting season is March through June. The male brings the nesting materials to the female who uses them to make a small nest, consisting of twigs lined with leafy twigs. There are usually 3-5 eggs that are whitish to pale blue in color. Incubation of about 25 days is performed by both sexes.
The young hatch over several days and differ in size. The hatchlings are tended by both parents. After the age of about 2 weeks, if the young are disturbed, they will jump out of the nest into the water, only sometimes being able to return to the nest.
The Anhinga dives underwater to hunt for food. Often a solitary bird when feeding, its diet consists mainly of catfish, pickerel, mullet, shad, sunfishes, and occasionally goldfish from outdoor ponds. Also they consume aquatic insects, crayfish, lizards, frogs, water snakes and young alligators.