May 2011 Bird Photo of the Month

Black-necked Stilt in Flight © J. R. Williams
(Himantopus mexicanus)
Broadmoor Marsh, Canon 50D, EF 100-400mm, ISO 160, 1/2000 @ f/5.6

This elegant black and white patterned bird, sleek and streamlined, rises from its nesting habitat.  J.R. Williams expertly photographed it in May at the T. M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area of Brevard County. Black-necked Stilts also frequent freshwater, muddy habitat in our county, such as sod farms and Egret Marsh Stormwater treatment system where they can be seen daintily walking on long slender pink legs, foraging for invertebrates. Stilts mate, nest, and raise their young in full collaboration after migrating here at the end of February from their overwintering areas—perhaps central Mexico, Cuba or Puerto Rico.

They seek salt marshes, shallow lagoons, ponds and wetlands with muddy shores for nesting. Choosing an area at the water’s edge, they make a shallow “scrape” and then toss lining materials over their back into this depression. If the water rises, both birds insert twigs beneath the nest to keep it high and dry. In the nest cup, four camouflaged tawny olive eggs with brown speckled markings fit snugly, narrow ends toward the center. Incubation begins only after the last egg is laid, so that all hatch at the same time. Parents take turns regulating the eggs’ temperature by either making contact with their ‘brood’ patch (featherless area on the breast) to warm them or wetting their breast feathers to cool them. To regulate their own body temperature, they pant and fluff feathers. No eggs are left uncovered more than a minute. Surprisingly, 1-2 days before hatching, from inside the shell come “Peep, Clicking, and Whine Calls” through a hole pecked with an ‘egg’ tooth that disappears soon after the baby stilt hatches! All the youngsters are immediately capable of walking and feeding in shallow water. As soon as all hatch, the entire brood is led into vegetation for protection.

Juanita Baker
Coordinator of the Photo of the Month,
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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