Photographing Anhingas–Florida’s “Snake Bird”

The female Anhinga is distinguished by her pale brown neck.

In the Brazilian Tupi language, Anhinga means “devil bird.” In the Florida Everglades, Anhingas are called “snake birds” due to their snake-like neck that appears above the water as they swim.

For the aspiring bird photographer, the Anhinga offers a dramatic, easy to photograph subject, photograph due to its unique physiology and behaviors. 

Unlike ducks, osprey, pelicans and most water birds, Anhingas do not have waterproof feathers. They are made to dive far beneath the surface, swim for many yards, strike fish with their powerful neck, impale them on their long dagger-shaped bill, and return to the surface to swallow their prey whole.  With giant webbed feet to propel them, they are the Micheal Phelps of swimming birds.  No other bird gets across the pond faster underwater.  Waterproof feathers would make them more buoyant and less able to dive deep. 

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The male Anhinga has an inky black neck and head.

Hence, the behavior that makes the Anhinga so appealing for nature photographers: Between swims, Anhingas must spread their wings to dry in the sun.  And what camera friendly wings they possess!  The male anhinga’s wings are inky black with bold silvery-white streaks and patterns.  The females are similar, but instead of a jet black neck and head, their upper body colors are pale brown.

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Riverbend Park, Jupiter Florida
Anhinga at Riverbend Park, Jupiter Florida.

After a fish or crayfish meal, the Anhinga finds a waterside tree to rest and “pose” for the photographer fortunate enough to know where to look.  In southern Palm Beach County, Florida,  managed wetlands such as Wakodohatchee Wetland Preserve and Green Cay Preserve include dozens of nesting colonies of Anhingas within easy viewing range of an elevated pedestrian boardwalk.   For a more “true to nature” wild backdrop, head to northern Palm Beach County, Florida. Here, Anhingas are not as common, but when found at large open nature preserves like Riverbend Park in Jupiter, the areas’ Cypress Trees with their tangle of roots, provide an unforgettable image of nature in the wild.

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Wakodohatchee Wetlands Preserve near Delray Beach, Florida has boardwalks that lead to dozens of Anhinga colonies.

Bob Gibson is the owner of Photo Masters, an organization dedicated to teaching conservation photography to DSLR and mirrorless camera enthusiasts. He teaches one and three day workshops which combine hands on instruction in the field with Adobe Lightroom post processing.