Birds – Stilts

In the Stilts the hind toe is entirely absent. Of the two genera we may first speak of Cladorhynchus, in which the bill is perfectly straight and all the toes webbed; it includes only the Banded Stilt (C. leucocephalus) of Australia. It is smaller than the Avocets, being only thirteen and a half inches long, and is white throughout except that the wings and center of the abdomen are black and the breast crossed by a broad band of chestnut, which perhaps disappears in winter.

In the true Stilts (Himantopus), of which there are some six or seven species, there is no web between the inner and middle toes, and the cylindrical or slightly depressed bill is slightly recurved from the middle. The only North American species is the Black-necked Stilt (H. mexicanus), which occurs also in tropical America, but breeding northward to the Gulf coast and Great Basin and locally up the Mississippi Valley as far as Minnesota. It is about fifteen inches long, the male being glossy, greenish black above, with the front of the head, a spot above and another below the eye, the rump and under parts pure white; the female is similar, but has the back brownish slate-color; the legs and feet are lake-red or rose-pink. It frequents especially small, shallow, brackish ponds or the upper portions of salt marshes, in which it wades about seeking its food, which consists of small shell-fish, aquatic insects, with the larve, eggs, and spawn of various forms of marine life; it also visits fresh-water ponds in the interior of the country. They are of a sociable disposition, keeping in flocks of a greater of less size, and in contrast to the watchfulness and restlessness of most waders, they are ordinarily of a gentle and unsuspicious nature; contact with man, however, has made them more suspicious. They nest in wet, grassy marshes, making a platform of straw and grass often barely sufficient to keep the eggs out of the water. The eggs number three or four and are similar in color to those of the Avocet. Quite similar to this is the Brazilian Stilt (H. melanurus) of South America, which differs in the white of the forehead extending over the crown, and a white collar separating the black of the nape from that of the back. Its habits are similar, as it frequents marshes and lagoons, wading in search of its food in shallow water near the margin. The Black-winged Stilt (H. himantopus) of the Old World enjoys a wide range, extending from central and south-ern Europe over the whole of Africa and eastward through central and southern Asia to China, and southward to India and Ceylon. The male sometimes has the whole head and neck white, but usually the hind crown, nape, and hind neck are more or less black, and the wings deep black, glossed with bottle or purplish green. It is, according to Dresser and others, usually a tame and confiding species, wading about in shallow water for its food of aquatic insects and the like. It nests in May, often in large communities, building its slight, grass-lined nest on masses of floating herbage. Most closely related to this is perhaps the Australian Stilt (H. leucocephalus) of Australia, New Guinea, etc.