Spend any amount of time on waterways in the Tambopata region and you are bound to see one or more Anhingas. The Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) is one of the most aquatic bird species in the Amazon basin and is a fairly common resident of the Tambopata region. Although they occur in naturally low numbers, Anhingas are conspicuous residents of oxbow lakes and rivers of Tambopata. This large, long-tailed bird needs open areas of water to fish in and is thus absent from small, shaded creeks that flow through the rainforest.
The Anhinga is easily recognized by its thin neck, sharp, needle-like bill, and long, barred tail. It shares the same habitats as the rather similarly-shaped Neotropic Cormorant but can be told from that species by a longer tail, pointed bill, and plumage (partly brown in young birds, silvery feathers on the backs of adults). Anhingas are excellent swimmers and spend much of their time paddling beneath the surface of the water with webbed feet as they search for fish. After seeing a potential meal, they give chase and attempt to catch their prey with a stab of their sharp beak. They seem to spend the rest of their time with wings partly open as they perch on branches or snags that stick out of the water.
Some interesting facts about the Anhinga:
- “Snake bird”: The word “Anhinga” comes from the Tupi language and means, “Snake bird”. The reason for this name is immediately apparent as soon as one watches an Anhinga swimming through the water with just its serpentine neck and head sticking above the surface.
- Water Turkey: In the southeastern United States, the Anhinga is locally referred to as a Water Turkey due to its size, aquatic nature, and plumage that vaguely resembles that of a Wild Turkey.
- The darter of the Americas: The Anhinga is in a small family of birds known as “darters”. There are three other species of darters on the globe; one in Africa, one in Asia, and another in Australia.
- Cannot waterproof its feathers: Unlike aquatic birds such as ducks, Anhingas can’t waterproof their feathers by preening them with oil from an uropygial gland. Their plumage therefore becomes waterlogged when diving beneath the surface although this is believed to be as adaptation for catching prey underwater.
- Good fliers: Anhingas may be at home in the water, but they also frequently take to the air. Anhingas are often espied as they soar high above a river or rainforest on flat wings. The long neck and tail gives them a cross-like appearance in flight.
How to see Anhingas on a Peruvian jungle tour:
- Take a trip to an oxbow lake: In Tambopata, Anhingas are frequently seen at oxbow lakes. The calm, fish-filled waters of this type of habitat provide excellent foraging opportunities for this highly aquatic, piscivorous species.
- Watch for them on snags: If you take a tour to the Peruvian Amazon and see a fairly large, dark, long-tailed bird perched on a snag that sticks out of the water, it’s usually one of two things; an Anhinga or a Neotropic Cormorant. Both love to perch on branches that stick out of rivers and oxbow lakes but the Anhinga has a longer tail and sharper, pointed bill.
Take a family-friendly Amazon adventure tour with Rainforest Expeditions to see the Anhinga in action.