White-headed stilt

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White-headed stilt
Himantopus leucocephalus - Hexham.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Charadrii
Family: Recurvirostridae
Genus: Himantopus
Species: H. leucocephalus
Binomial name
Himantopus leucocephalus
Gould, 1837
  • Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus

The white-headed stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) is a bird in the family Recurvirostridae. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the black-winged stilt (H. himantopus). This shorebird has been recorded from Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Christmas Island, Indonesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.


The white-headed stilt grows to a length of about 14 in (36 cm) with a wingspan of about 26.5 in (67 cm). The back of the head and neck, the back and the upper surfaces of the wings are glossy greenish-black. The undersides of the wings are plain black and the remainder of the plumage is white, apart from the tail feathers which are tinged with grey. The long, thin legs are pink and the toes have black claws. The long slender beak is black and the irises and the eyelids are red.[2]


The white-headed stilt is resident in southern Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi and most of Australia and New Zealand. There are non-breeding populations in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Brunei, Palau, South Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, East Timor and New Guinea.[3] This bird is a vagrant to Japan and Christmas Island.[1]


The white-headed stilt is a waterbird and feeds in shallow water, probing into the sediment with its beak. It is gregarious and in New Zealand sometimes forms mixed flocks with the black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae),[2] a bird now critically endangered.[4] It feeds largely on aquatic insects and on small molluscs. It emits a repeated yelping cry as it flies and the legs trail behind it, tending to sway from side-to-side.[2]

Adults and immatures in Kewdale, Western Australia

The white-headed stilt breeds in the spring, choosing as a nesting site an area of sand or shingle by an estuary, beside a dried up riverbed, on a flat bit of coast or in a grassy field near the sea. It seems particularly attracted to locations near where the red duck-weed (Azolla rubra) flourishes. The nest is found in a shallow depression or in a scrape in the ground where usually four, ovoido-conical eggs are laid. These are yellowish-brown dappled irregularly with dark blotches and spots. The nest is difficult to find as the eggs are well-camouflaged, but the parent birds give away the presence of the nest by mounting into the air and flying in circles, uttering distress cries. The chicks are able to leave the nest almost as soon as they have hatched. They are difficult to detect because their downy plumage is well-camouflaged and they "freeze" when alarmed. A parent bird sometimes feigns a leg injury to draw intruders away from its chicks.[2]


The white-headed stilt has a wide range and large total population size and the population trend appears to be stable so the IUCN lists this bird as being of least concern.[1]