The Anhinga has so many names, and each appears appropriate than the other. It is the water turkey, the snakebird, the American darter, or just the darter. Either way, the connection of Anhingas to water is a no-brainer. You’re more likely to see these birds in some of America’s hotter states. 

About Anhingas

The origin of the name goes back to the Tupi language from Brazil, in which Anhinga means snake bird or a cooler, the devil bird. It is apparent why it was named if you have seen this bird swim. You can only see their neck from the surface of the water, so it resembles a snake closing in on its prey. Anhinga also has a distinct lack of nostrils, breathing from their epiglottis instead. 

Does the bird species not get captivating with each sentence you read? As a birder, aren’t you excited to know more? Well, today, we’ll learn about: 

  • Anhinga color patterns, songs, and size
  • Anhinga behavior, habitat, and diet
  • Anhinga lifecycle, nesting, and migration range


Anhinga Color Pattern

While the shape of the Anhingas is a work of marvel, the color patterns aren’t that striking. Still, when you see large birds with those dark colors all over them, it will frighten you a bit. Most of their plumage is a deep, dark black color. Except on the back and wings of male Anhingas, you will notice either white or silver stripes. 

Female or immature Anhingas are slightly paler in color. The dark black color on their head is replaced with a paler brown imitation. Their neck and breast are also paler in color. Then, the belly is dark, and the same white or silver stripes are found on their upper parts and wings. There are bits of silver at the tips of their tail on both male and female Anhingas. They also have an orange bill and shades of orange on their legs. 

Description And Identification

Anhingas are easy to recognize. From their large bodies to their S-shaped, curvy necks, you don’t need to memorize the color patterns to recognize them. The shape of their body is enough to give it away. After all, not many bird species have been constantly called snake birds. If you are around warm water bodies and notice something black sticking out, be careful. It could be a snake or an Anhinga bird. 

If it is our beloved bird, well, you want to be prepared with all your birding gears. They are not interested in humans, and it is for the best that you stay away from them. If you want to see them, do so from a considerable distance. After all, those dagger-like bills aren’t only good at pecking fishes. 

If you do need to recognize by their plumage, their color pattern is easy to memorize. It is primarily black all over the body with white or silver strikes present on their back and wings. The end of their tail also has bits of silver on them. It is only the legs and bill that are a different color. They happen to be muted orange. 

Anhingas are mostly silent, so the hope of recognizing them by their song or call isn’t much. The only time they make sounds is when they are building a nest. At that time, it either sounds like a sewing machine or the sound from the throat of a frog. It is your best guess which species it happens to be. 

Identifying Anhingas isn’t hard. Finding them when they choose settlements away from human reach is the problem. 

Anhinga Song 

Anhingas tend to stay silent. Usually, the most you can hear them singing is when they are around their nest. It is not a song or a call as much as it is a sound. While the male and female Anhingas are making their nests or scaring poor herons away from theirs, they make this loud sound. 

It is a clicking noise of sorts, similar to the ones you hear from a sewing machine. Or, you might even compare it to the sound of a frog who has a sore throat and is croaking. So, if you hear this noise, you could be close to an Anhinga or a sick frog. 

Anhinga Size

Anhingas are large even for waterbirds. They are slender and long. In-flight, their slim bodies appear to have been flattened. To give you a good idea, a Double-crested Cormorant would be bigger than them. However, American Coots are smaller than Anhingas. 

In length, they are about 75 to 95 cm. So, when we say they are long, we mean it. They are heavy birds, too, despite having a slender body. They weigh about 1325 to 1350 g. Of course, they have an equally long wingspan, precisely 109 cm in length. 

Anhinga Behavior

They engage in the fish hunt when they are swimming with the head immersed inside the water or while they are casually strolling through the water, taking out fish that are close to the surface. They aren’t exactly swimmers by nature. Instead, they wait for the fish to get close to them and then attack with lightning-fast precision using their bill. 

It is partly why their neck is structured the way it is, so they can have that kind of control over their head when they want to hunt for food. Often, they will toss the fish they have captured in the air and then catch them and swallow them up in one go. 

Anhinga Diet

For Anhingas, fish is their undisputed choice of food. Their favorite fish are actually those that humans don’t find value in, such as pickerel, sucker, and even catfish. Some aquatic insects have also made their way into the diet in case of scarcity of their favorite types of fishes. 

Crayfish and shrimp are also consumed by Anhingas, along with snakes, turtles, and baby alligators. Basically, Anhingas have a varied diet and can consume things you wouldn’t first assume looking at them. 

Where Anhinga Live And Habitat

Anhingas prefer ponds with woods surrounding them, rivers, and cypress swamps for habitat. They have a liking towards quiet water bodies sheltered from view from the rest of the world and difficult to reach for humans. Rivers running through cypress swamps that move in a lazy manner, lagoons, and freshwater marshes are some of their favorite places. If the lagoons have mangroves surrounding them or lakes have dead trees encircling them, even better. 

Range and Migration

The species Anhinga is found pretty much all over the entire world. If the place has superficial, warm water, you have a good chance of finding an Anhinga bird there. As for the American Anhinga, they are further broken down into two species depending on their location. 

Some Anhingas are found in South America, mainly the eastern Andes, and some on Trinidad and Tobago island. Then, there are Anhingas living in Grenada, Cuba, Mexico, and the southern U.S. 

The migratory birds among Anhingas are only those who reside on the northern or southern extreme of their respective ranges. They also take sunlight, temperature, and various other suitable living conditions into account before doing so. 

For example, during winter, Anhingas are likely to migrate towards the equator. This decision is based on whether the sun shining there has the ability to warm their cold bodies. So to speak, Anhingas do have a body temperature similar to snakes.

 The northern U.S. states, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, get visits from Anhingas as well, though these areas do not fall under the regular range. 

Anhinga Lifecycle

Anhingas give birth in a brood of 4 eggs. Of course, the egg count can be 2 or 5, depending on the female Anhinga’s health. The color of their eggs can range from white to almost a pale blue. The eggs take on the color of the nest a lot. Both sets of parents take part in incubation which lasts for about 25 to 29 days for Anhingas. 

The male and female Anhinga take care of their young ones, and the task of feeding them is something they share. After 2 weeks since the eggs are hatched, if the youngs feel disturbed, they will actually dive into the water straight from their nest. 

Sometimes, the young are capable of climbing back to their nest, though it is a rare occurrence. When they can climb, they go up the tree where their nest is by making use of their bill and feet. It is unknown exactly at what age they take off for the first time. 


It rarely happens that Anhingas pairs nests in isolation. Usually, they enjoy group settings. Mixed colonies with cormorants, ibises, herons are where they appear to feel at ease. 

Male Anhingas finds a site in these colonies and then starts displaying to attract the attention of a mate. The displays range from raising their tail, so it is straight attached to their back or swaying their wings. Sometimes, they would point their bill towards the sky and then do a deep bow. Quite respectful birds, if you think about it. 

Female Anhingas are the main builders of the nest. However, the male Anhingas do help by finding good nest material. The nest is a platform raised with sticks, and green leaves that line it. Sometimes, they will chase out heron and egrets from the nest of those species and take over the nest instead for breeding. 

Anatomy of an Anhinga

As we have already said, Anhingas are extremely tall. They are these long, slender species of an imposing figure if they are standing straight. Fortunately, most of the time, they have their head dipped in water with no interest in straightening. And they do have a long neck. Their neck is S-shaped with a considerable denture at the curve. 

Their tail is also long and resembles the arm of a fan. If you have seen a turkey’s tail, that’s pretty much what Anhingas’ tail looks like. They have a sharp, knife-like bill and small, strong legs. Their leg, compared to the rest of their body, is laughingly short. 

The male Anhingas have lots of feathers on their body while the female and immature ones are bare on that count around their head and neck. When Anhingas are flying, they almost look like crosses. They flatten their wings, and their neck and tail stay straight and proud. 

During the flight, they are almost flat beings and resemble nothing of their overall weight. They also have small, black eyes that, despite their striking figure, don’t appear frightening. If you look at their eyes alone, they seem to be a carefree bird species. 

Final Thoughts

If Anhingas don’t happen to be swimming in narrow waters while only slyly showing parts of their neck, they are startlingly easy to spot. They will hang around as they wait for their body to dry after a long swim. All you have to do is find water bodies, such as ponds and lakes where there are lots of vegetation at the edges. There, pay attention to the birds that are sunning. 

On a later afternoon in the summer season, keep your gaze focused towards the sky in case any Anhinga felt like using the rising temperature to their advantage. They might be waterbirds, but no one can criticize their soaring techniques. Their silhouette can be seen high in the sky when they are soaring, taking on a cross-shaped appearance. 

Despite having a generous range, Anhingas happen to be uncommon in numbers. They also choose places where you can’t reach easily. As such, their conservation status is difficult to estimate. The best estimate to date doesn’t count Anhinga’s survival status in danger. On the continental concern score, they have a score of 9 out of 20. As such, the overall conservative concern is low. 

As such, your main task would be to appear at the right habitat at the right time to see Anhingas. It isn’t impossible to see them, just difficult. 


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp, we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Anhinga  

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Anhingas are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Anhinga Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Anhinga. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders For Anhingas

There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.

Best Bird Houses For Anhingas

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 bird houses have become our favorites. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these bird houses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.

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