Black-necked Stilt

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Common Name: Black-necked Stilt
Scientific Name: Himantopus mexicanus

Size: 14 inches (35.5 cm)

Habitat: North and South America; from the coastal areas of California through much of the interior western United States and along the Gulf of Mexico as far east as Florida, then south through Central America and the Caribbean to NW Brazil SW Peru, E Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. The northernmost populations, particularly those from inland, are migratory, wintering from the extreme south of the USA to southern Mexico, rarely as far south as Costa Rica; on the Baja California peninsula it is only found regularly in winter.

Found along the edges of shallow water in open country at Shallow fresh and saltwater wetlands, including salt ponds, rice fields, shallow lagoons, and mangrove swamps.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 200,000 to 2,000,000. While populations are increasing in United States, the stilt remains vulnerable to habitat alteration. Hawaiian subspecies was reduced to about 200 birds in 1940s, but now up to about 1,500, but still listed there as federal Endangered Species. Stilts are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Diet: Mainly crustaceans and other arthropods, and mollusks – and small fish, tadpoles and very rarely plant seeds. Feeds in shallow water, while wading or swimming. Locates food by sight and snaps it up, sometimes sticking head completely underwater, or swipes the head and bill through water.

Nesting: Males have a greenish gloss to the back and wings, particularly in the breeding season. This is less pronounced or absent in females, which have a brown tinge to these areas instead. Otherwise, the sexes look alike.

Stilts chooses mudflats, desiccated lacustrine verges, and levees for nest locations, as long as the soil is friable. Reproduction occurs from late April through August in North America, with peak activity in June while tropical populations usually breed after the rainy season. The nests are typically sited within one kilometer of a feeding location, and the pairs defend an extensive perimeter around groups of nests, patrolling in cooperation with their neighbors. Spacing between nests is approximately 65 ft (c.20 m), but sometimes nests are within 7 ft (2 m) of each other and some nests in the rookery are as far as 130 ft (40 m) from the nearest neighbor. The Black-necked Stilt is actually classified as semicolonial since the nests are rarely found alone and colonies usually number dozens, rarely hundreds of pairs. The nests are frequently established rather close to the water edge, so that their integrity is affected by rising water levels of ponds or tides. This is particularly a hazard in the case of managed salt ponds where water levels may be altered rapidly in the salt pond flooding process.

The clutch size generally is 3-5 eggs with an average of four. For 22–26 days both sexes take turns incubating the eggs. The young are so precocial that they are seen swimming within two hours after hatching and are also capable of rapid land velocity at that early time. In spite of this early development the young normally return to the nest for resting for one or two more days. They fledge after about one month but remain dependent on their parents for some more weeks. Birds begin to breed at 1–2 years of age.

Cool Facts: Five species of rather similar-looking stilts are recognized in the genus Himantopus. They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos. The Hawaiian subspecies of Black-necked Stilt has the black of its neck reaching much farther forward than the mainland forms. Habitat loss and hunting led to the decline in its numbers. It uses primarily the few freshwater wetlands found on the Hawaiian Islands.

The stilt call is a sharp yipping which is given continuously when disturbed.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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