Birds – Blacked Necked Stilt

(Himantopus mexicanus)

Called also: LAWYER; LONGSHANKS; TILT; TILDILLO; WHITE SNIPE.

Length—About 15 inches.

Male and Female—Mantle over back and wings black, also line running up back of long neck and spreading over top and sides of head below the eye. Tail grayish; rest of plumage, including a spot above and below the eye, white. (Long black wings, folding over white spots on lower back, rump, and upper tail coverts, make the entire upper parts appear black.) Immature birds more brownish above. Long, straight, slender, black bill. Excessively long red or pink legs. Beautiful large crimson eyes.

Range—Tropical America, nesting northward from the Gulf states, “locally and rarely” up the Mississippi; rare on the Atlantic coast, though specimens have been taken in Maine and some reach Long Island annually; most abundant in the southwest.

Season—Summer resident or visitor. Permanent resident in Gulf states.

To a query put to an Arkansas farmer as to why this bird should be called the lawyer, immediately came another query: “Ain’t you ever noticed its long bill?”

But it is the excessive length of legs that attracts the attention of all except punsters. So slender and stilt-like are they, so teetering and trembling is the bird when it alights, that one’s first impulse is to rush forward and help it regain its equilibrium before it falls. Why must the stilt always go through this pretense of feebleness when we know it is a strong steady walker, graceful and alert; or, does it actually lose its balance on alighting ?

Wading about, with decided and measured steps, in shallow pools, preferably among the salt and alkaline marshes, where the avocets often keep them company, the stilts pick up, from first one side, then the other, insects and larvae, small shell fish, worms, fish fry, etc., often plunging both head and neck under water to seize some deep swimmer. Long as their legs are, they will wade up to their breasts to secure a good meal; but, having no webs to their toes, swimming does not come easy, as it does to avocets, nor is it often tried.

Strong fliers, owing to their long wings, which, when folded, reach beyond the tail, the longshanks trail their stiffened legs behind them at a horizontal, after the manner of their tribe, and continually yelp click, click, click, as the flock moves leisurely overhead. In the nesting grounds this yelping cry is incessant, however far the intruder keeps from the olive or clay colored eggs or the young chicks that run about as soon as hatched.