Himantopus mexicanus is a small-bodied but somewhat tall shorebird which inhabits shallow wetlands looking for small invertebrates. Found in both fresh and salt water habitats, the average adult is about 14 inches (37 cm) long, mostly black above and white below. It’s long, spindly rosy-pink legs give the bird its name.
“But stilts are essentially waders; for wading they are highly specialized, and here they show to best advantage. At times they seem a bit wabbly on their absurdly long and slender legs, notably when trembling with excitement over the invasion of their breeding grounds. But really they are expert in the use of these well-adapted limbs, and one can not help admiring the skillful and graceful way in which they wade about in water breast deep, as well as on dry land, in search of their insect prey. The legs are much bent at each step, the foot is carefully raised and gently but firmly planted again at each long stride. The legs are so long’ that when the bird is feeding on land it is necessary to bend the legs backward to enable the bill to reach the ground.” – Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life History of the Black-necked Stilt, Smithsonian Institution, monographs published 1920-1950
Gini and I have delighted over the years anytime we have encountered this delicate-looking bird. One of our more memorable observations was watching a group of around a dozen stilts on a brisk windy day along the Texas coast at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. Nesting season was approaching and territories were being staked out and defended, noisily. Birds were flapping, flying, feeding, napping – little clouds of black, white and pink all across the salt marsh. Fantastic!
As part of a Florida breeding bird atlas, I was privileged to observe one nesting site containing over 130 nests contained within less than one acre of ground. Another day of discovery by boat located a nesting pair of stilts in a small lake with eggs on a bare patch of mud.
Whether flying, nesting, feeding or sleeping – these frail-looking birds with such long legs continue to be fascinating!
Adult Black-necked Stilt.
Size comparison with Great Egret. About 14 inches (37 cm) for the stilt to about 40 inches (100 cm) for the egret.
If you’re lucky enough to live where Black-necked Stilts can be found, try to spend a little time observing them. Pack a lunch. They can be addictive.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!