Monday, May 28, 2012

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilts, although looking a bit like circus clowns on bright pink stilts, are nonetheless graceful shorebirds found in southern and western North America. They are vagrants to Minnesota and the Dakotas. We found them nesting near Aberdeen, South Dakota, but I am unaware of Minnesota breeding records.

Stilts eat brine flies. Stilts are often found in shallow and temporary ponds with emergent vegetation. The problem is that this habitat often collects agricultural contaminants. These birds are particularly susceptible to selenium, which causes embryo deformities (Robinson et al. 1999).

In March, Erika and I found small flocks of Back-necked Stilts at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. To my amazement, my dragonfly expert Scott King looked at this photo and asked about the damselfly. "Is the damselfly in the tip of the bird's beak, or is it on the branch behind?" I never saw it, not in the field or in the photograph. Look closely! The odonate is on the branch behind the beak. This episode demonstrates that proficiency in finding and identifying dragonflies (and birds) takes years of practice.

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