Meet Mr. Anhinga. Sometimes he appears at the pond outside our apartment building. I felt lucky to snap this photo of him drying out his wings in the warm Florida sunshine. Some people consider him ugly. Do you?
I am attracted to the Anhinga because of his huge black wings. Notice how they glisten in the light. Here he strikes the perfect pose, and balances his wet, heavy, body on the pointy top of a cypress knee.
I shared this photo with two of my neighbors. One guy shook his head, “No, that’s a cormorant.”
My other neighbor, a fisherman, did not share my excitement. “Those birds are no good because they eat fish.”
The old saying is true. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” My neighbor’s comments motivated me to seek more information about this interesting creature.
First of all, the bird pictured above is definitely an Anhinga due to his long neck, dagger like beak, and long tail. A cormorant is much smaller and has a rounded beak. It doesn’t have silvery patches on its wings like the Anhinga.
However, my neighbor who fishes was correct. Anhingas are amazing predators and stab fresh water fish with their pointy beaks. After they harpoon their prey, they swallow it whole. These birds must have strong muscles in their throat to accomplish this feat.
The name Anhinga comes from the Tupi Indians in Brazil and means “devil bird.” (Apparently they had the same attitude as my fisherman neighbor.) Anhingas have several nicknames including darter, water turkey, and snakebird.
I understand the snakebird reference. When Anhingas swim they submerge most of their body, but raise their neck and head above the surface. I can see why someone might think they are a water snakes. And few people like snakes.
Although the Anhinga has webbed feet for paddling, the bird doesn’t have waterproof feathers. Its waterlogged feathers allow it to dive easily and search for underwater prey, such as fish and amphibians. Anhingas can stay underwater for substantial periods of time.
Anhingas need to dry out their wings between dives. Poor things, talk about body maintenance! They spend as much time out of the water as they do in the water. But they have an advantage of being able to fly. In fact they can soar through the sky and stretch out their wings in the shape of a cross. Perhaps their ability to fly can help them escape from their natural enemy, the alligator.
The Anhinga’s call sounds like a booming croak that reminds me of fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m thankful I’ve never heard one sing in our pond.
Do you remember the book “The Ugly Duckling,” by Hans Christian Anderson? There are advantages to being ugly:
″‘Oh,’ sighed the duckling, ‘how thankful I am for being so ugly; even a dog will not bite me.’ And so he lay quite still, while the shot rattled through the rushes, and gun after gun was fired over him.”
Unfortunately, my Anhinga will never change into a swan. I appreciate Mr. Anhinga for who he is. Maybe that’s because a poet can find beauty everywhere.