Black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) do look like they are walking around on stilts! Their long thin red legs are distinct. There are five species of stilts in this genus, and all Himantopus species have these long legs, legs that are the second longest in proportion to their bodies behind only flamingos.
Our black-necked stilts are found in shallow wetland areas (salt ponds, shorelines, mudflats, flooded lowlands, etc.) from the western United States down into central America and into parts of South America. They forage by wading in shallow waters in search of aquatic invertebrates and fish. Often, they will actually plunge their heads into water in pursuit of their food. Typically black-necked stilts are seen in pairs or small groups.
These birds share the parental duties. Both adults help in choosing a nest location, and then both will work to construct the nest. Nests are built on the ground in soft substrate that can be scraped since the nests themselves are shallow depressions (about two inches deep made with the feet and breast) and often lined with grasses, shells, etc. that can be found nearby. The nests are typically built on surfaces above water such as small islands or clumps of vegetation.
Clutch sizes are from one to five eggs that are incubated for 21-26 days. The young are covered in down and able to leave the nest within 2 hours of hatching. They are extremely territorial in the winter and during breeding season. But they are semi-colonial when nesting and will actually participate together in anti-predator displays. But when not breeding they will often form in closely packed groups to forage.
While the overall population of black-necked stilts appears healthy, there are always threats to them from things like habitat loss, water pollution and more. In Hawaii, the subspecies, the Ae’o, is a federally endangered species, in part, because of invasive aquatic plants that have diminished open water foraging grounds.
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Audubon Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boasts a 2.25-mile boardwalk trail open every day of the year. The Sanctuary is located at the end of Sanctuary Road, 15 miles east of Interstate 75 off Immokalee Rd (exit 111). For admission fees and hours, call (239) 348-9151 or visit www.corkscrew.audubon.org.