This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the black-necked stilt.
As the weather warms and the shorelines of our local lakes thaw, shorebirds will return to Pagosa Country. One of the most distinctive of these is the black-necked stilt (himantopus mexicanus). A robin-sized bird with a relatively long beak, lanky, flesh-colored legs, white undersides extending up under the neck and onto its face, and a black back and hood, this inhabitant of open, shallow water seems to have a sense of purpose and elegance in its gait.
These birds feed on aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, small fish, and various insects and insect larvae.
Females take the lead in selecting a mate by initiating a ritual in which the female stretches out her neck and preens her feathers. Males respond in like fashion, followed by the pair dipping their bills in the water and repeating the preening behavior with increasing enthusiasm and splashing until the act of copulation is consummated.
Mated pairs share responsibility for incubation of their eggs and chick rearing, producing one brood of two to five chicks per year. Hatchlings are born ready to run within about two hours of emerging from their shells.
They are ground nesters with nests typically located together in loose colonies, allowing for group behaviors that dissuade predators, like the “Popcorn Display” which involves circling a predator, calling out loudly and jumping in the air. Individuals may also deceive predators by acting like they are sitting on a nest, then flying away when approached. Black-necked stilts can also be very territorial, to the point of attacking chicks of their own kind that wander into their neighborhood.
Black-necked stilt populations have been relatively stable over the past half century or so. Recent sightings indicate that they are expanding their summer range northward, perhaps in response to climate change. Because they are dependent on wetlands as their primary habitat, loss of wetlands to development, water diversions and drought represents the major threat to the long-term survival of this species.
When our Audubon chapter can resume group activities, they will be posted on our website, www.weminucheaudubon.org, and at www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.