Stilt Walker

Your legs are longer than airport security lines.

~Anonymous

I have seen these long-legged shorebirds on several occasions, but was delighted when driving down a beach road recently to spot their distinctive silhouettes right next to a pullout along the road.

Black-necked Stilts

Two Black-necked Stilts in a flooded field (click photos to enlarge)

Black-necked Stilts are a medium-sized shorebird with anything but medium-sized legs. In fact, they supposedly have the second longest legs in proportion to body size of any bird, with only Flamingos beating them out. And to make sure you notice those lovely limbs, they come in bright pink, a nice contrast to the bold black and white of their bodies.

Black-necked Stilts 1

Adults have darker plumage than juvenile birds

I think this pair included an adult (black plumage) and an immature bird (duskier gray plumage). References also state that the females have slightly less black plumage than the males, so I suppose the lighter one could also be an adult female.

Black-necked Stilt

Some say Black-necked Stilts walk like a model on a runway

To compliment their legginess, they also have a stiletto black bill. They use that sharp bill to feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates, small fish, tadpoles, and other small animals, with an occasional seed thrown in.

Black-necked Stilt feeding 1

Black-necked Stilt feeding

I watched this pair probing in the shallow waters of a flooded roadside field. More typical habitats include mud flats and marshes. I have seen them mainly in coastal areas, but in some parts of their range they do occur in inland habitats, although rarely in North Carolina.

Black-necked Stilt feeding 3

Feeding behavior included an occasional lunge into the water

Black-necked Stilt feeding 2

Stilt head dunk

Most of the time I watched, they seemed to be picking small items off the water surface. But, they occasionally plunged their head into the water for what I assumed was bigger prey. The one large item I saw one catch looked like a large beetle, or perhaps an aquatic snail (it was black and appeared shiny).

Black-necked Stilt preening

Preening

One bird paused in its quest for a snack and started to preen.

Black-necked Stilt preening 1

Scratching an itch

After watching this bird scratching I couldn’t decide whether it was an advantage or not to have such long limbs. I tried to imagine reaching an itch on my head with tennis rackets strapped to my wrist – precise control is probably a necessity.

Black-necked Stilt and reflection 1

Black-necked Stilt and reflection

My time with the birds was brief, perhaps fifteen minutes, but I can think of no better way to spend that time than with one of our most distinctive, and beautiful, shorebirds.

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