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What is a Black-Winged Stilt?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

A black-winged stilt, scientific name Himantopus himantopus, is a type of long legged bird commonly known as a wader. Its distinguishing marking, as suggested by the name, is the presence of black wings on a white body. Typically found near the shore in many areas of the world, it feeds by walking around in shallow water and catching prey close to the surface in its beak. It has a relatively long breeding season, and both parents incubate the eggs and care for the hatchlings.

The black-winged stilt, also known as the common stilt, is a large bird, usually growing to a length of 14 to 15 inches (36 to 39 cm). It has pinkish red, extremely long legs that are out of proportion with its body, which allow it to easily wade in the water while searching for food. Its body is covered in white feathers, except for the back of the neck, the wings, and back, which are black. Sometimes the top of the head is a grayish color, and it has reddish eyes. It has a very long, narrow, black beak, and its call sounds like a high pitched, yipping bark.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

In many areas of the world, the black-winged stilt is found primarily near the coast. Areas where it is commonly found include Australia, Central and South America, Africa, North America, and southern parts of Asia and Europe as well as some of the Pacific Islands like the Philippines. It tends to prefer a warmer climate and shallow water. Some examples of preferred habitats include mudflats, freshwater or saltwater marshes, and the shores of lakes and rivers.

As a social bird, the black-winged stilt usually lives in small colonies or groups. Its diet is composed mainly of aquatic insects, small crustaceans, worms, larvae, and mollusks. It feeds by using its long beak to capture prey near the surface of the water while it wades. It will occasionally dunk its head under the surface in the search for food as well.

Breeding season for the black-winged stilt varies quite a bit and can occur at any time from August to December. The birds typically build their nests on the ground very close to the water, and construct them of grasses, twigs, and roots. The female usually lays about three to four eggs, and both parents incubate the eggs and noisily defend the nest. Once the babies hatch, both parents care for them until they are able to live independently.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Black-winged Stilt and where can it be found?

The Black-winged Stilt, known scientifically as Himantopus himantopus, is a slender wading bird characterized by its long, thin legs and striking black-and-white plumage. These birds are cosmopolitan in distribution, inhabiting wetlands across Europe, Asia, Africa, and parts of Australia and North America. They are often seen in shallow waters, where they forage for aquatic invertebrates.

Why does the Black-winged Stilt have such long legs?

The Black-winged Stilt's exceptionally long legs, which can be 1.5 times the length of its body, are an adaptation for wading in deeper waters where shorter-legged birds cannot reach. This allows them to access a unique feeding niche, searching for invertebrates in mudflats and shallow waters without getting their feathers wet, thus maintaining their insulation and buoyancy.

What does the Black-winged Stilt eat?

Black-winged Stilts have a diet primarily composed of aquatic invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks. They use their long, thin beaks to probe into the mud or water to snatch up prey. Their feeding technique involves pecking, as well as sweeping their bills from side to side to detect and capture food.

How do Black-winged Stilts reproduce?

Black-winged Stilts are monogamous and often breed in colonies. They build shallow nests on the ground, typically near water, where they lay 3-4 eggs. Both parents share incubation duties for about 25 days. The precocial chicks are born with the ability to walk and leave the nest within hours to search for food, still under parental supervision.

Are Black-winged Stilts migratory?

Many populations of Black-winged Stilts are migratory, traveling considerable distances between breeding and wintering grounds. Birds in temperate regions migrate to warmer areas during the winter months. For instance, European stilts may migrate to Africa or southern Asia, showcasing the species' adaptability and the importance of international conservation efforts for their wetland habitats.

What conservation status does the Black-winged Stilt hold?

The Black-winged Stilt is currently listed as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This status indicates that the species is widespread and abundant. However, they are still vulnerable to habitat loss due to wetland drainage and pollution, emphasizing the need for ongoing habitat protection and environmental awareness.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy