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The Lightning-Fast Anhinga

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that the Anhinga, a bird of southern swamps, is known as "the Water-Turkey for its swimming habits and broad tail, and also as the Snake-Bird for its habit of swimming with just its long head and neck sticking out of the water." This is a female, identified as such by her tawny-brown neck and breast (the male's plumage has a greenish iridescence).

The National Audubon Society notes that the Anhinga feeds primarily on "rough fish" considered "of little value to humans, including catfish, mullet, pickerel, sucker, gizzard shad. Also aquatic insects, crayfish, shrimp, sometimes snakes, baby alligators, small turtles. [The bird] hunts for fish while swimming underwater or at surface. Not usually a fast swimmer, mostly waits for fish to come near, then impales them with lightning-fast thrust of long, pointed bill. Structure of neck is specially adapted for this kind of rapid thrust. Fish often tossed in air, then swallowed headfirst" as was this one that I photographed in a canal in Big Cypress National Preserve. [Photo: D.F.G. Hailson]

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