ON THE WING: BLACK-NECKED STILTS, ABACO, BAHAMAS


Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

ON THE WING: BLACK-NECKED STILTS, ABACO, BAHAMAS

Black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus may be the most elegant shorebirds you will ever see. They are permanent residents on Abaco and not uncommon where they are found. It could be on a beach; more likely it will be in or around brackish ponds. It won’t be in the pine forest or coppice.

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

The rather disorganised stilt flying in the header image rather undercuts my claim for elegance, I realise. The image above of the bird at full stretch against a background of waves gives a much better idea of the beauty of this species. 

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Gilpin Pond is a good place to see stilts, and in summer they nest around the perimeter. A word of warning: they may be aggressive in the breeding season. I got too near a nest once and the female shouted at me then flew straight at my head. I hadn’t even realised there was a nest there until this happened, so her actions rather give the game away.

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

In common with some smaller shorebird species – for example, plovers and killdeer – the stilts have another defensive method to protect their young, a so-called ‘distraction display’. When their nest is under threat,  one of the adults will pretend to have a damaged or broken wing and so be unable to fly. It will flutter feebly along the ground, moving further and further away from the nest, diverting attention from it. It’s an amazing sight to watch the tactic in action. Check out this video to see examples of this behaviour.

Credits: all photos by Alex Hughes, one of the photographic contributors to The Birds of Abaco; video Nat Bel

‘ON STILTS’: ELEGANCE ON TWO LEGS (OR JUST ONE)


Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)‘ON STILTS’: ELEGANCE ON TWO LEGS (OR JUST ONE)

There’s something wrong in the picture above (no, I don’t mean about the photograph itself). Count up how many pink legs you can see. No, not including the reflections. Give up? It’s three. Between two birds. I assumed of course that  ‘Oner’ had a perfectly good serviceable leg tucked up into its undercarriage. I admired the balancing skills involved in resting one leg while nonchalantly standing on the other.

We were watching this pair of black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus at the pond at Gilpin Point, which at certain times can be ‘Stilt Central’. These birds are permanent breeders on Abaco and are without a doubt the most beautiful of all the waders (avocets, being extremely uncommon winter visitors, are disqualified from consideration for lack of presence). 

Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
It gradually dawned on me that Oner really did only have one stilt to stand on. After 10 minutes observing them and the other birds around them, there was no question about it – the right leg was completely and utterly missing. This unipedal deficit had no obvious ill-effects on the bird – nor on its ability to throw a good pose (above). Or to preen (below).
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
I’m in danger of losing sight of Twoer here, a bipedal bird that deserves its own place in the story, not just a wade-on part in Oner’s story.
Twoer as Ringmaster…Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
BNSs are territorial and in particular can become ‘proactive’ (ie aggressive) in protecting the area near a nest. I once mistakenly got close to a nest, not even knowing it was there. I soon learnt – a parent BNS came wading towards me, zigzagging in the water, shouting and carrying on in a way that immediately said ‘my nest is nearby’. And when I meanly stood my ground it suddenly took off and flew straight at my head…
A shouty stiltBlack-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
On reflection…Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco (and, if anyone noticed, sorry about some formatting issues which I can’t get rid of…); Audio file Jim Holmes / Xeno Canto
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

BLACK-NECKED STILTS ON ABACO: A PREVIEW


BLACK-NECKED STILTS ON ABACO: A PREVIEWBlack-necked Stilt, Gilpin Point, Abaco 1

T’ings on Abaco are pleasantly busy right now. The weather is gorgeous; the bonefishing is outstanding at the moment, so that even an incompetent like myself can boat a few fish in the day (6 to 4 lbs today, thank you so much for asking… What’s that? Speak up… yes, OK, I lost or mislaid a further eight along the way by deploying my compassionate principles of EARLY CATCH & RELEASE). There’s “The Birds of Abaco” to promote, with signings & co. Food to be got through. Drink to be taken. Frankly I’m exhausted (not really). And on top of it all, some nice birds to photograph. Here are a couple of taster shots for a future bird post on these delicate but surprisingly aggressive Stilts after we get back to Blighty (all too soon…) Black-necked Stilt, Gilpin Point, Abaco 2

“ON STILTS”: THE BLACK-NECKED STILTS OF ABACO


“ON STILTS”: THE BLACK-NECKED STILTS OF ABACO

This elegant stilt Himantopus mexicanus was one of a pair nesting in the scrub by a small brackish lake near Crossing Rocks. We had gone there for heron and egret reasons, but for once there were none. Just dozens of BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAILS. I had walked to one end of the lake, when suddenly this bird rose from the undergrowth and flew, shrieking, straight at me. It veered off, landing agitatedly in the water, and proceeded to stalk towards me on a zig-zag route, scolding me belligerently. Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 1Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 2Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 3
In the end, it stood facing me squarely, then flew at me before veering away again back to the bushes, where it continued to protest. Presumably close by was a well-concealed nest with the female and her eggs or chicks. Of course I wouldn’t have had any idea about it but for this peevish display of aggression. However, this is such a handsome bird, and the protective display was so effective that I considered myself well warned, and moved away from the area…
BLACK-NECKED STILT ALARM CALL (Xeno-Canto)
[audio http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/ILUHRFXDNU/BlackneckedStiltalarm.mp3]Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 4