Stilt - A fitting name for this wader!

by Dave Hanks

This bird is a Black-Necked Stilt. On stilts it is! Just look at those legs! This 18” tall species with pinkish/red legs - black back, crown, and eye stripe - and with vivid white underneath - can be seen in the spring/summer months foraging in shallow waters. They prefer fresh water, but oft-times are found in saline shallows - especially along the southern coast in winter where they can be seen wading along with a slow, graceful gait.

A favorite springtime photography destination for us is the Camas marsh by Hill City, Idaho. Stilts are one of the attractions that draw us there where they can be seen in association with Willets and Avocets (which they are closely related to). They are usually seen in pairs or even in small flocks. These birds can be “skittish” and will give a continual, sharp “yipping” when disturbed. Intruders are dealt with by flying in circles around the culprit to distract it.

The female, which has slightly shorter legs than the male, will lay 3 to 5 eggs. Their nests are built either on grassy tussocks in shallow water, or they may construct a substantial mud mound. Both parents share in the incubation which lasts for 25 to 26 days. The chicks, when hatched, are speckled and “cute as cute”. They are extremely precocial and able to swim within two hours after emerging from the egg.

Stilts will eat aquatic vegetation, but most of their food consists of insects and insect larvae, which they sweep off the surface of the water. They will often plunge their head under water, if necessary, to grab a morsel.

This graceful bird is quite individualistic in flight. Both of those long legs trail conspicuously behind and are used as rudders while in the air. This is a very distinctive species and an exciting member of our aquatic communities!

(Stalking the shallows)