The marshy areas and shallow ponds in our area are visited by several species of wading birds in the spring – some are passing through on their migrations and others return for the summer. One returnee that I love is the black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus).
This striking bird, black above and white below in a pied pattern, has a white spot above its eye. This white spot on a black background, if photographed at the wrong angle, can give the eye a strange appearance. This stilt has long red legs. In proportion to its body size, only the flamingo has longer legs.
Black-legged stilts typically feed at the water’s edge, picking around at the surface. They eat aquatic invertebrates (water beetles, water striders, crayfish, etc.) and fish. Several stilts will herd fish into shallow water where they can easily catch their prey. Stilts can swim and dive but usually do so only when under stress.
Loud and noisy, the black-necked stilt is a social bird, particularly in the non-breeding season. During the nesting season they often nest in a semi-colonial manner – near each other with some space between the nests, which are usually built on piles of dirt, debris or vegetation slightly above the water. Black-necked stilts will cooperate to mob predators or will encircle a foe and flap their wings to discourage the predator.
Black-necked stilts can be found in central to southern California, southern Florida and the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Their summer range is spreading into the interior states.
These pictures were taken at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA).