Randy's Natural World
Photo Credit: 
Randy Mitchell | For The Chronicle

 

After featuring a photo of a black-necked stilt in the column concerning Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area, I thought, "Why not feature the bird itself?"

So here it is.

Upon seeing the black-necked stilt for the first time, many people have a “What on earth is that?” moment. I know I did. Well, sort of. 

I had seen a photo of one in a book, but when I saw one in person for the first time, I was taken aback by just how different it was from most birds.

After all, the black-necked stilt has the second-longest legs in proportion to its body of any bird in the world. Only the flamingo has longer legs in proportion to its body.

To me, it’s certainly fascinating to watch them walk along. Without seeing them, one might think they have a clumsy gate with those long legs, but they are graceful as they move along.

Now, this bird does not reside in Southwest Oklahoma, but it does pass through during spring and fall migrations. And fall migration is already underway.

 

 

Appearance

When I think of the black-necked stilt, besides being beautiful, the word “slim” comes to mind. Besides having a somewhat slim body, the black-necked stilt has long, thin legs and a long, thin bill. Its head even seems small compared to its body.

Its color scheme is simple: black and white, with pinkish legs.

There really is no mistaking the elegant-looking black-necked stilt. If there is a bird that appears similar, it would be the American avocet. But the avocet is larger, has a bill that curves up more and has a different color scheme.

Black-necked stilts stand about 15 inches tall, and, although they appear extremely delicate, they are quite strong — on land, water and in flight.

 

Habitat

The black-necked stilt is a bird of water. It prefers shallow water, such as wetlands, lakes, flooded fields, marsh edges, ponds, etc.

 

Food

These birds hunt mostly by sight. Their long legs give them a high vantage point from which they can scan for aquatic invertebrates, small fish and crawfish.

Their bill is sensitive, so it can also feel for prey if the water is murky.

The long legs also allow the bird to venture into deeper water as well.

 

 

Nesting

Black-necked stilts nest on the ground near water. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the female lays one to five eggs. Incubation time is about three to four weeks. Although that is a long time for incubation, hatchlings emerge alert and can leave the nest within two hours of hatching. Wow! The parents will feed the young ones, but they can hunt and feed on their own.

Like many shorebirds, stilts use a “brokenwing display” to deter predators. Simulating a broken wing often fools a predator and draws them to an adult and away from a nest.

 

 

Range

It would take a lot of newspaper to explain the range of the black-necked stilt. It might be best to just say that they do not nest in Southwest Oklahoma.

However, according to the National Audubon Society, there is an uncommon breeding range that stretches from about the Enid area north into Kansas.

They also have breeding areas in New Mexico, Colorado, and portions of several states in the American West and Northwest, and along the East Coast.

Their permanent range includes the west coast of Florida, the entire Texas Coast, parts of California and much of Mexico.

 

Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.