Maybe it’s because of my art training background at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art and my love for color, but the plumage of certain birds is just always stunning to me no matter how many times I see the bird.
The attire of the black-necked stilt, for example, is beautiful and elegant and could easily have gotten them into Atlantic City’s 500 Club during cocktail hour. The striking black and white tuxedo is quite the contrast for the raspberry pink legs. Would you like a glass of chablis, darling?
But instead the stilt just prances around the marshes, unaware of its beauty. I never tire of seeing this bird. We are quite fortunate here on the Southwest coast of Florida as these beauties are here all year. We see them almost every time we visit Myakka River State Park.
Stilts never seem to be in a hurry, slowly wading through the shallow fresh or brackish wetlands, using their long, delicate black beak to snag crustaceans or beetles. They may also eat the seeds of some of the aquatic plants.
The female stilt is not quite as dark as the male. Her plumage is not actually black but rather a very dark brown. Other than that, they look the same.
Three to five eggs are laid in a rough nest on the ground. It may be slightly scraped out of the ground with some shells and stones and such. Usually they nest in a group. If a predator appears, several adults will do a distracting dance away from the nesting area.
Both parents choose the nesting site, and both also care for the young. The chicks are highly precocial and actually leave the nest several hours after they hatch, which is probably why they don’t bother with making a real nest in the first place. The parents will look after them even after they begin to fly. Black-necked stilts have only one brood per season.
While Myakka State Park is a reliable area, there are many spots they may show up. During this rainy season, don’t be surprised if you see them foraging in ditches or wet fields. Ding Darling on Sanibel in another site to view them and many other waders. It is best to visit that site at low tide, and remember that it’s closed on Friday.
A visit to the Celery Fields in Sarasota may produce this beauty. However, with all of the recent rain, the wet fields may be a better place than the ponds to spot the stunning black-necked stilt. The rainy season usually creates high water in the lakes and ponds, which is not good for wading birds that forage in the shallows.
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.