Black-necked Stilt

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!

 

Nap time.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1000, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @500mm

 

Stilt eggs.

Lake Lowery

1/400, f/11, ISO 800, Nikon D7000, Nikkor  70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @300mm

Lake Lowery

1/400, f/11, ISO 800, Nikon D7000, Nikkor  70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @300mm

 

Immature stilt.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1250, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @420mm

 

Adult Black-necked Stilt.

Lake Gwyn Park

1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 1800, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

 

Size comparison with Great Egret. About 14 inches (37 cm) for the stilt to about 40 inches (100 cm) for the egret.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1000, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @460mm

 

Lake Lowery

1/800, f/11, ISO 720, Nikon D7000, Nikkor  70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @300mm

Circle B Bar Reserve

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1000, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @550mm

San Bernard NWR

1/1000, f/8, ISO 250, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

1/3200, f/8, ISO 900, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @420mm

Lake Gwyn Park

1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 3600, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

San Bernard NWR

1/1250, f/11, ISO 1400, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

 

 

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!

26 Comments on “Black-necked Stilt

  1. Those long legs are amazing, and such an appropriate name for these birds. I love Bent’s species descriptions. I have most of his series (reprints of course).

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  2. Avocets and stilts are an eternal source of fascination, but we have to travel so far to see them we don’t often have the pleasure. And that is under normal circumstances, let alone the difficulties caused by Covid-19. I had hoped to be seeing Pied Stilts and Red-necked Avocets in Australia in July, with a reasonable chance of Banded Stilt too, but the Coronavirus scuttled those plans. Maybe next year…..

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    • Ahh, the best laid plans of mice and birders …..

      We are all hoping for a return to “birding as usual”! Hope it’s sooner rather than later.

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  3. What a wonderfully illustrated and enlightening post, Wally! Those legs look impossibly long and slender, and I’ve occasionally found myself wondering how any sort of control mechanism can run down legs like that in order to operate the feet at the end of them, let alone have any degree of management of the articulation of the leg joints. Thank you for arousing my curiosity once more!

    All’s well here and I hope that it continues to be so there with you both – take good care – – – – Richard

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    • These birds appear so ungainly and delicate, and yet have a subtle beauty which remind me of a ballerina.

      We’re both doing great! Another weekend is almost here. Birding! Bugging!

      Thank you for the kind remarks, Richard. All our best to you and Lindsay.

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  4. Nice work with the pictures Wally. These things are pretty scarce here in the UK where of course we know them as Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) virtually indistinguishable. Seen lots in the Med and where I am always struck by their improbably long legs and knock-knees. But it’s a great species to watch in action as you show.

    We have rain today, a change from the recent Florida type weather experienced in the last month. All that was missing was a dip in your outdoor swimming pool.

    Take care you both.

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    • Thank you, Phil. We are in an early “summer thunderstorm” cycle. Storms begin precisely at 2:00 and fade away at sunset. Humidity level and heat results in a constant steam bath. I love it.
      Hope your bid for freedom from your oppressors is going well.
      All the best.

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  5. We have them here too (Portugal) but “ours” are a little different. The head and neck are completely white.No patches above the eye.
    As for the behaviour it is like you said, they are fearless on nesting season.
    Thank you for sharing and also for the settings on the photos.

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  6. Gorgeous images of a gorgeous bird! We get the occasional Black-winged variety here in the UK but mostly they are on the continent.

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