The Devil Bird – Anhinga
By Kelly Dean
There are birds in Florida that fish from the top down, such as the eagles, hawks and falcons. And there are wading birds as well, like the egrets and herons. The birds of prey swoop down on their fish. The waders saunter around in the shallow water and peck and forage for fish.
But there’s a bird that is just as adept at swimming as the fish it’s trying to catch — from the bottom up. It’s no slouch at flying either. The anhinga is that bird. The anhinga is related to the cormorant, and often confused for one as it spends time underwater, raising its head to catch a breath. In fact, the anhinga is known as the snake bird or darter for sticking its head and neck above water after being submerged for a long period of time.
Although both the cormorant and anhinga do the head above water snake thing, the anhinga is most legendary for it because it’s either totally out of the water or almost totally under it. The cormorant mostly stakes out a school of fish from a post or tree before fishing.
Allegedly, the name anhinga comes from a Native South American word meaning devil bird, and I think it’s due to its odd yet graceful appearance.
The anhinga is cunning-looking with a sharp beak, long tail and sleek lines. These features separate it from the cormorant, which has a hooked beak, short wings, and short tail. Yet beauty is only skin deep. The anhinga stabs its fish with that elegant sharp beak. Yikes.
As Florida birds go, the anhinga is the surprise prankster. When gazing out at the water, suddenly a bird’s head and neck appear. By the time you grab your camera, it’s gone again. Maybe that’s why it’s called the devil bird. Yet I doubt the Native Americans had cameras back then. I’m kidding.