Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week

January 31, 2021 • 8:00 am

John Avise is winding down his series of faux ducks: waterfowl that people think are ducks but aren’t.  Your job is to look at the photos and then guess the species. After trying, go below the fold for the ID, some Faux Duck Facts, and a range map.

Swimming partially submerged:

Adult male:

Adult female:


Breeding pair tending their stick nest in mangroves:

Female showing flexible neck and turkey-like tail:

Showing the snake-like neck:


Yawning and showing the gular pouch:

Swimming with only neck above water:

Head portrait of male:

Another head portrait:

Close-up view of head:

Characteristic flight silhouette:

Click “continue reading” to learn the species and some Fun Faux Duck Facts, as well as to see a range map:

ID: Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

This web-footed, surface-diving fish-eater (in the family Anhingidae) has a dagger-like bill that immediately distinguishes it from any duck.  Unlike most ducks and other waterbirds, its plumage lacks waterproofing, necessitating that the birds sunbathe to dry out after each swim. [It seems that having water-soaked feathers may help the bird in its unique habit of submerging its body and swimming with only its head and snake-like neck protruding above the water’s surface of a pond or wooded swamp.]  In the U.S., this species is confined to Florida and adjacent southeastern states, and that is where my pictures were taken.  Males have a mostly all-black plumage (except on the wings) whereas females and juveniles are brown in the head, neck, and upper breast.  Especially when in breeding condition, bright blue eyes and facial patches characterize these birds.  Members of this species also have a pinkish gular pouch.

A range map from the Cornell Bird site:


26 thoughts on “Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week

  1. Great bird. It is interesting that ducks and geese are quite buoyant and oily. They don’t have much trouble staying dry. The cormorant and anhinga are expert divers and so have to hang out to dry.

  2. I love the partially submerged photo, and I’ve never been in Florida when they are in breeding condition. Thanks!

  3. I knew that one – when I was 8 I was given two really good books, birds of the world & Hamelyn’s Animal World Encyclopaedia. I pretty much breathed in evolution…

  4. Anhinga! Did not get it right. Couldn’t remember the name for this one. It looks like a heron with a short bill but the flight silhouette is all wrong because the legs are too stubby. The bill is not like that of a cormorant’s bill though this bird likes to spread and sun its wings like a cormorant.

    Gorgeous photos, Dr. Avise. Thanks!

  5. Wonderful bird – I am adding it to my “favorite birds” list.

    BTW – what unique characteristics define a “duck”?? Is it the Quack?

  6. This has been a great series! Thanks, John Avise. And a good species to end with. I am retired, and this is the first Winter I am not travelling to visit my daughter in Tallahassee in some time, due to the pandemic. Each time I visit we always take a trip down to Wakulla Springs State Park for their pontoon boat tours down the river. Great views of Anhingas, as well as Double-crested Cormorants and a few other species appearing in this series. Lots of other birds, alligators, and turtles as well. I recommend it.

  7. When I lived in Homestead, Florida, and we went to the Everglades National Park, I learned about anahingas. They swam fearlessly with alligators. They sat drying their wings in the sun. Very snake like heads.

  8. They are called ‘darters’ here. The map shows the range of the American darter in North America. The genus Anhinga has a wide range South America, about the whole of subsaharan Africa, the Subcontinent, SE Asia , Australia and even New Zealand.
    Darwinwins, yes, they are considered closely related to cormorants and share the family Phalacrocoracidae. I’m not aware that those recent DNA studies, that changed so many notions of relatedness has broken this family up.

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