Botterblom Nature Reserve – African Darter – 1

The African darter (Anhinga rufa), sometimes called the snakebird, is a water bird of sub-Saharan Africa and Iraq. The African darter is a member of the darter family, Anhingid Ae, and is closely related to American (Anhinga anhinga), Oriental (Anhinga melanogaster), and Australasian (Anhinga novaehollandiae) darters.

The African darter is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa wherever large bodies of water occur; overall the species remains widespread and common.


The African darter is 80 cm (31 in) long. Like other anhinga’s, it has a very long neck. The male is mainly glossy black with white streaking; females and immature birds are browner. The African darter differs in appearance from the American darter most recognizably by its thin white lateral neck stripe against a rufous background color. The pointed bill prevents confusion with cormorants.


This species builds a stick nest in a tree and lays 3–6 eggs. It often nests with herons, egrets and cormorants.

It often swims with only the neck above water, hence the common name snakebird. This, too, is a habit shared with the other anhinga. It feeds on fish, which it catches by diving.

Unlike many other waterbirds the feathers of the African darter do not contain any oil and are therefore not waterproof. Because of this, the bird is less positively buoyant and its diving capabilities are enhanced. After diving for fish, the feathers can become waterlogged. In order to be able to fly and maintain heat insulation, it needs to dry its feathers. Thus, the African darter is often seen sitting along the waterside spreading its wings and drying its feathers in the wind and the sun along with cormorants, which may share its habitat.

African Darter, Anhinga rufa, Botterblom Nature Reserve, Durbanville, South Africa

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