A long legged beauty

The black-winged stilt is making its presence felt in Bengaluru’s lakes

April 25, 2016 06:25 pm | Updated October 18, 2016 12:45 pm IST - Bengaluru

Difficult to frame Thanks to their colouring Photo: Sivakumar Hariharan

Difficult to frame Thanks to their colouring Photo: Sivakumar Hariharan

Sit along the shores of some of our lakes in Bengaluru and if you spot an extra long legged bird, it will probably be the Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). The scientific name Himantopus comes from Greek meaning “strap foot” or “thong foot”. They belong to the shorebirds and waders category of birds, but like many shorebirds, don’t swim while feeding. They feed by pecking at aquatic insects, molluscs, crustaceans, spiders, worms, tadpoles, small fish, fish eggs and seeds while wading in the water. They also make a repeated high-pitched barking call, and lay a clutch of three to four eggs.

According to Wiki, the long, distinctive legs of the black-winged stilt account for nearly 60 percent of its height. Outside of the breeding season, the bird is a social species and can be found in groups of up to 1,000. Their lifespan is about 20 years. Birding enthusiast Sivakumar Hariharan says, “I always felt that taking a good shot of stilts was tough. The bird is just black and white. I get into a fix while adjusting the exposure...to adjust for the black wings or for the white body. Often the white body is less seen and merges with the water. One needs proper light and frame. Stilts are one of the most common waders, but this graceful bird never tires me. If I shoot about 10 frames, two might have all the right ingredients for a good picture.”

The Bird life International site says that this species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the threshold for Vulnerable. They are globally widespread wading birds, and their population is estimated to be above 780,000. Avid birder Swaroop Bharadwaj has had an exhibition of his pictures in three places, including two schools in Tumkur. The exhibition was for school children, in order to introduce them to birds and bird watching and the other one in a private community gathering, to create awareness.

Black winged stilts are said to have the longest legs relative to their body and they are aquatic insects feeding birds. Sivakumar Mallya who enjoys birding says, “Black-winged Stilts are among the cutest of the waders. A pair of thin long pink legs against a relatively smaller body gives them a disproportionate appearance and they appear as if mounted on stilts. They keep them clean and tidy in-spite of preferring the choicest of marshes as their habitat. They are often seen with their head submerged in the water hunting for insects and small fishes.” Both local (non-migratory) and migratory populations exist and those found here are often resident, except for local movements in response to availability of food.

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