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Cormorants and Anhingas: Phalacrocoracidae

American Anhinga (anhinga Anhinga): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: With its long, snakelike neck, yellow pointed bill, and a tail that can be fanned out like a turkey's tail, the American anhinga is easy to recognize. Its average length is about 34 inches (85 centimeters) from bill to tail, and it weighs about 2.7 pounds (1.2 kilograms). The male is an overall black color with silvery-white markings on the upper wings. The female has a brown head, neck, and upper chest.

Geographic range: American anhingas live in the southeastern part of the United States and in Mexico, Central America, and the northern two-thirds of South America.

Habitat: American anhingas usually live in warm wetlands, especially cypress swamps, and along the edges of wooded ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. They need to have logs or tree branches nearby where they can sit in the sun to dry their feathers.

Diet: An anhinga usually catches fish, crayfish, and frogs by waiting for them to swim nearby underwater and spearing them with a lightning-fast jab of its sharp bill. Then, with the flick of its head, it tosses the prey into the air, catches it, and swallows it headfirst.

Behavior and reproduction: Unlike cormorants, anhingas soar high on outstretched wings. They often feed alone, but at night they roost with other birds in a colony. American anhingas sometimes nest in trees and bushes along with herons and cormorants. The male chooses a nest site and performs a variety of courtship displays, including wing waving and bowing. When a female joins him, she builds the nest with sticks brought by the male. She lays between one and five eggs, and both parents sit on the eggs and care for the young.

American anhingas and people: People are fond of watching this bird, especially the way it tosses fish into the air and catches them. Some call it the "water turkey" because of its tail. It is also called the "snakebird" because of the way it swims with just its neck and head above water. Bird-watching tourists spend money on boat tours, food, and hotels, which helps the local people who live near the birds.

Conservation status: American anhingas are not in danger of extinction. ∎



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Frederick, Peter C., and Douglas Siegel-Causey. "The Birds of North America, Anhinga, No. 522." Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and The Academy of Natural Sciences (2002): 1–24.

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McGrath, Susan. "Shoot-out at Little Galloo: Angry Fishermen Accuse the Cormorant of Ruining Their Livelihood." Smithsonian (February 2003): 72–78.

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Web sites:

"Anhinga anhinga." Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Anhinga_anhinga.html (accessed on April 12, 2004).

"Anhinga." Museum of Science, Miami, Florida. http://www.miamisci.org/ecolinks/everglades/anhingainfo.html (accessed on July 12, 2004).

"Anhinga anhinga." FloridaNature.org. http://www.floridanature.org/species.asp?species=Anhinga_anhinga (accessed on April 12, 2004).

"Anhingas and Darters of the World." WorldBirdInfo.net. http://worldbirdinfo.net/search_results.asp?gillfamilyname=ANHINGIDAE:Darters,Anhingas (accessed on April 12, 2004).

"Cormorant." The Royal Society for Protection of Birds. http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds/guide/c/cormorant/index.asp (accessed on April 12, 2004).

"Double-Crested Cormorant." United States Geological Survey. http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i1200id.html (accessed on April 12, 2004).

"Great Cormorant." United Stated Geological Survey. http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i1190id.html (accessed on April 12, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsCormorants and Anhingas: Phalacrocoracidae - Physical Characteristics, Cormorants, Anhingas And People, Great Cormorant (phalacrocorax Carbo): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION, CONSERVATION STATUS