From the Aviary: Darters – The Spearfishing Champions

By Madhurima Das

When you are in South India and are at a lake, you may get to see a big black shadow underneath the water. As the shadow comes closer to the surface, a long snake like neck emerges. Relax! This is not the Loch Ness Monster. It is only an Oriental Darter, commonly called as the “snake bird”.

The Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) is a cormorant like water bird with a long, slender “snake like” neck. Darters, as the name suggests, “dart” around underwater like torpedoes trying to catch fast moving fish. So, the next time you see a black shadow moving fast under the water; don’t be alarmed, for it’s not coming for you.


[Photo: Madhurima Das]

These birds, if they could join the Olympics; would bring home gold medals in – fastest underwater swimmers (freshwater), fastest spearfishing (with up to 90% success rates, one of the highest in the bird kingdom) and would pass off as a style icon too!

Darters have a dazzling brown head, black wings with silver streaky feathers and a white belly; like a model wearing a lovely coat. The beak is their weapon; sharp and strong, they can spear right through the fish! Due to this, their beaks get stuck and this is the time you will get to see their unique ability to remove the fish, juggle with it and toss it head first into their mouth!  These birds are truly remarkable creations of nature. [View a short video here: Darter]

They are generally found in fresh water lakes and streams, and often share their habitats with cormorants. They nest in mixed heronries and may lay clutches of three to six bluish green eggs. Darters are found in the Indian sub-continent and are spread throughout south-east Asia. They visit the Puttenahalli Lake mostly around the pre-monsoon months. Unfortunately, these beautiful birds are on the IUCN red list since 2004, due to pollution, habitat loss and hunting.