|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|The darters or snake-birds are birds in the family Anhingidae. There are four living species, one of which is near-threatened. The darters are frequently referred to as snake-birds because of their long thin neck, which gives a snake-like appearance when they swim with their bodies submerged.|
The darters are large birds with sexually dimorphic plumage. The males have black and dark brown plumage, an erectile crest on the nape and a larger bill than the female. The females have a much paler plumage especially on the neck and underparts. Both have grey stippling on long scapulars and upper wing coverts. The sharply pointed bill has serrated edges. The darters have completely webbed feet, and their legs are short and set far back on the body. Their plumage is somewhat permeable, like that of cormorants, and they spread their wings to dry after diving. Vocalizations include a clicking or rattling when flying or perching. During breeding adults sometimes have caw or hissing calls.
Darters are circum-equatorial, tropical or subtropical. They inhabit either fresh or brackish water and can be found in lakes, rivers, marshes, swamps, estuaries, bays, lagoons and mangrove swamps. They tend to gather in flocks sometimes up to about 100 birds but are highly territorial when breeding. Most are sedentary and do not migrate, however the populations at extreme distributions may migrate. The Oriental Darter is near-threatened species. Habitat destruction along with other human interferences is among the main reasons for a declining population.
Food and feeding
Darters feed mainly on fish. They use their sharply pointed bill to spear their prey when they dive; this is how they get the name darter. Their ventral keel is present on the 5-7 vertebrae which allows for muscles to attach so that they are able to project their bill forward like a spear. They also eat amphibians such as frogs and newts, reptiles such as snakes and turtles and invertebrates such as insects, shrimp and mollusks. These birds use their feet to move underwater and quietly stalk and ambush their prey. They then stab the prey, such as a fish, and bring them to the surface where they toss it into the air and catch and swallow it.
Anhinga melanogaster "snake birds" nesting at Kalletumkara, Kerala
The darters are monogamous and pair bond during the breeding season. There are many different types of displays used for mating including male displays to attract the female, greeting displays between the male and female and pair bonding displays between the pairs. Also during breeding, their small gular sac changes from pink or yellow to black and the bare facial skin turns to turquoise from a yellow or yellow-green color. They usually breed in colonies.
Breeding can be seasonal or year round and varies by geographic range. The nests are made of twigs and are built in trees or reeds, often near water. The clutch size is two to six eggs (usually about 4) of a pale green color and the eggs are incubated for 25 to 30 days. The eggs hatch asynchronously. Bi-parental care is given and the young are considered altricial. They reach sexual maturity by about 2 years. These birds generally live to around 9 years.
ISO - 400
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