African darter

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African darter
in Botswana
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Suliformes
Family: Anhingidae
Genus: Anhinga
A. rufa
Binomial name
Anhinga rufa
(Daudin, 1802)
Distribution map

Anhinga africana

The African darter (Anhinga rufa), sometimes called the snakebird, is a water bird of sub-Saharan Africa and Iraq.[1]


The African darter is a member of the darter family, Anhingidae, and is closely related to American (Anhinga anhinga), Oriental (Anhinga melanogaster), and Australasian (Anhinga novaehollandiae) darters.


The African darter is 80 cm (31 in) long. Like other anhingas, 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 recognisably by its thin white lateral neck stripe against a rufous background colour. The pointed bill prevents confusion with cormorants.


The African darter is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa wherever large bodies of water occur; overall the species remains widespread and common.[1]

The only non-African subspecies, the Levant darter (Anhinga rufa chantrei), occurred at Lake Amik (Amik Gölü) in south-central Turkey, in the Hula Valley lake and marshes in northern Israel and in the Mesopotamian Marshes of the lower Euphrates and Tigris rivers in southern Iraq. The Turkish population disappeared during the 1930s and the Israeli population during the drainage of the Hula in the 1950s. In Khuzestan, 110 birds were counted in 1990, but the subspecies was feared extinct as a result of oil spills during the Gulf War and the drainage of the Mesopotamian Marshes that followed it.[2] However, a small population was documented in the Hawizeh Marshes in 2007.[3] The drainage of the marshes was interrupted and reversed after the Iraq War.[2]


African darter with prey, a cichlid fish

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 anhingas. 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.



  • Birds of The Gambia by Barlow, Wacher and Disley, ISBN 1-873403-32-1
  • Birds of Southern Africa by Sinclair, Hockey, Tarboton, ISBN 978-1-86872-721-6


  1. ^ a b c BirdLife International (2017). "Anhinga rufa". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T22696705A110665322. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22696705A110665322.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b Hume, J.P. (2017) Extinct Birds. Bloomsbury Publishing, 560 pages.
  3. ^ Abed, J.M. (2007). Status of Water Birds in Restored Southern Iraqi Marshes. Marsh Bulletin 2(1): 64-79.

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