The Anhinga is an unusual and iconic bird. Its snake-like neck, sharp dagger-like bill, and unique overall appearance have earned it such nicknames as the “Devil Bird,” the “Snake Bird,” and the “Water Turkey.” Anhingas are striking birds which hunt alongside waterways. While most other diving birds stalk their prey from the water’s edge, Anhingas actually swim, chasing prey through the water.
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Cormorant-like, but very much unique, Anhingas are usually found in South and Central America, as well as sections of the American South, especially in warm coastal regions. This is why it was such a surprise when one turned up in Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Anhinga was found on one of the Three Sisters Islands in Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn, New York. At the time of writing, this bird has been in Prospect Park for several weeks. It is the first ever Anhinga to be recorded in Kings County and the second on record in New York City since 1992.
With this in mind, it would be easy to assume that the Anhinga is just your typical vagrant bird. Vagrant birds are birds that pop up in regions far outside of their regular ranges. This typically occurs due to navigational issue during migration. During the busy spring migration season, vagrancy is not terribly uncommon.
What’s unusual in this case is the fact that this Anhinga, despite being very rare in this specific area, may be a part of a larger pattern of Anhinga expansion. Not long before the Brooklyn Anhinga was spotted, a birdwatcher in Rome, New York, which lies nearly 200 miles north of New York City, spotted a group of Anhingas. When the unexpected visitors were counted, they numbered 22 individual birds.
When many of the same species of bird pop up in an unusual area during a particular season, this is called an irruption. Irruptions usually occur due to changes in the population density or food supply, as is the case for Snowy Owls which experience irruptions with relative regularity after rodent populations boom.
While the Anhingas in New York might be called an irruption, some scientists speculate that this might actually be the advance party of a larger change in the Anhinga’s range, representing an overall push to the north. Anhingas like warm coastal regions and thrive in areas that provide this climate. As global temperatures warm, previously hostile regions become capable of accommodating Anhinga populations. This is just one small piece of a very tricky climate puzzle which is affecting bird populations in ways that we do not yet have the tools, data, or hindsight to fully understand.
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