BOTW: African Darter

My Bird of the Week this week is the African Darter, a common bird seen along Zambia’s rivers and dams.  It dives for fish, spearing them with its long sharp bill.  Unlike many other water birds, it does not have any oil on its feathers so it is not very buoyant.  This helps it to be able to dive underwater quickly but is a hindrance when it comes time to fly.  The darter, like other birds in its family, often sits in the sun with its wings out in order to dry them.  If its wings are wet, it will not be able to fly well. 

These two pictures show a darter which we accidentally startled along the Kafue River.  The darter had to spend a great deal of effort to get out of the water and into the air because its wings were soaked and it had not had time to dry them properly.

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The second picture shows one of the common features of the darter: its long, curved neck.  The darter is sometimes called the snake-bird because it often swims with just its long neck and head out of the water, resembling a snake. African Darters are very similar to the North American Anhinga.  Anhinga is the name of the family and genus of both of these birds.  The word anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means devil or snake.

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Something I had never paid attention to before was that darters have some slight sexual differentiation.  The female has a pale brown throat, but the breeding male has a brighter, rufous throat with a white stripe down it. With its handsome black and white plumage, it is truly another beautiful bird.

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