Thursday, 1 February 2024
With their long and slender necks, Australasian Darters are also known as ‘snakebirds’. They forage in water, often with only their head and neck exposed – where they’re sometimes mistaken for a swimming snake!
Unlike most waterbirds, Australasian Darters don’t have waterproof feathers – their feathers absorb water to reduce buoyancy and help them dive for prey. Like cormorants, darters must dry out their feathers after foraging and are often seen perched over water with wings and tail outstretched.
A darter’s neck is built for catching fish. A unique hinge mechanism at the 8th and 9th vertebrae acts like a trigger, thrusting their head and neck forward with startling speed and precision.
Using their long, needle-sharp bill like a spear, darters will stalk and stab fish underwater. Then, they surface and fling the fish into the air before swallowing it head-first. Darters will also take smaller prey (such as insects and spiders) from the water’s surface.
With their small head and long wings, neck and tail, Australasian Darters have a distinctive cross-shaped silhouette in flight. While clumsy on land, they can soar gracefully to great heights on thermals, gliding between updrafts.
To impress a potential mate, male Australasian Darters perform elaborate wing-waving and twig-grasping displays. He raises his wings up and down alternately, and will sometimes grasp a twig in his bill, shaking it vigorously.
The Darter is a large, slim water bird with a long snake-like neck, sharp pointed bill, and long, rounded tail.
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