The Black Necked Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), is a large wader in the avocet and stilt family, Recurvirostridae. Black Necked Stilts are dark-backed shorebirds with white underparts and long, straight bills. Females tend to have browner backs, while males are more black. The distinguishing feature of all birds in the stilt family is extremely long, stilt-like legs, which are reddish in colour and about 8 – 10 inches long.
Black Necked Stilts front toes are long and slightly webbed at the base, with no hind toe. Black Necked Stilts are approximately 14.5 inches long from beak to tail and weigh about 14.5 to 16 ounces.
Some populations of Black Necked Stilt are migratory birds and move to the ocean coasts in winter.
The long legs of the Black-necked Stilt are extremely well adapted for wading in shallow water and foraging for food. Black Necked Stilts may also forage on dry land, but have to bend their legs in order to reach the ground with their beaks. Their long slender beaks are used to probe for food in the mud and sand. They are also excellent swimmers and strong fliers. They mainly eat insects and crustaceans. Black Necked Stilts also feed on tadpoles, mollusks, water beetles and other aquatic insects, snails, small fish, flying insects and seeds of aquatic and marsh plants.
Black-necked Stilts are found in fresh and salt water marshes, mudflats, wet savannas, pools, grassy marshes and flooded fields. Black Necked Stilts are very widespread, found through the southern and western United States and into Florida and other Gulf coast states, northern South America, the West Indies and the Galapagos Islands. Their breeding range extends as far north as Oregon and Delaware along the coasts and inland as far as Idaho, Texas and Kansas.
Black Necked Stilts nest in small colonies on the ground, building their nests in both fresh and salt marshes and shallow coastal bays. Their nests are quite shallow and built in the marshy ground, lined with grass, weeds, twigs, or shell fragments. Black Necked Stilts usually lay 3 – 4 buff coloured eggs, which are spotted with brown.
Both parents incubate the eggs for about 25 days. The young Black Necked Stilts leave the nest shortly after hatching and are tended by both parents. The parents are extremely protective of their young and will fly at intruders or practice the crippled-bird act to draw predators away from their young.
The Black Necked Stilt chicks are light brownish grey with black spots and are very well camouflaged. When the adults give an alarm call, the chicks scatter and lay flat against the ground. The chicks are able to fly about 4 weeks after hatching.