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The black-winged stilt is classified under the category of 'Least Concern' by the IUCN because of its widely distributed habitat. But the Hawaiian subspecies of the black-winged stilt is sadly endangered due to loss of natural habitat.
Black-winged stilts are shorebirds that are black and white in color. They can be seen wading in shallow waters. They move fast and have an elegant stance. One thing to remember while identifying this bird in flight is that it has a fast flight with legs that are straight, and a slightly held neck.
There has been some confusion in the taxonomy of this bird. Some say they are a totally different species, but some say they are a subspecies.
The subspecies are:
- Black-necked stilt
- White-backed stilt
- White-headed stilt
- Hawaiian stilt
Species: H. himantopus
A male and female (L to R)
The black-winged stilt, as the name suggests, has the characteristic black wings. Other characteristics are the white body and orange-pink legs. Speaking of legs, they are long and distinct, making up for 60% of its height! In the breeding season, a greenish color can be noticed on the upper back in males. Sometimes, the breast can have a pinkish tinge and their eyes are red. The female looks almost the same but with brownish wings, and some gray on the nape. In winter, their plumage is a very dull brown in color with a gray head and nape. The juveniles are a paler version of the adults, with pale-colored legs and buff fringes on the brown upper parts.
These birds have a sharp call that sounds like 'kek' or 'ke-yak'. When they feel unsafe, they call each other with the alarm call that sounds like a continuous 'kik-kik-kik'. These birds are very noisy during the breeding season. Outside that, they are social and move in groups of up to 1000 in numbers!
How to Differentiate Them from Others
These birds might be confused with black-necked stilts, but they have a distinctive black neck, which is lacking in this species. They can also be mixed up with pied avocets, but notice the bill and the wing colors. Avocets have bending bills, while black-winged stilts have straight bills.
Habitat and Diet
The black-winged stilt is found in a wide range, almost everywhere. It is found in parts of Asia, such as India, Australia, Africa, Eurasia, Philippines, and America. These birds prefer marshes and shallow waters, even around coastal areas. For breeding, they come near freshwater or brackish water sources.
They are found near any water body that has lots of insects to eat. The birds feed on worms, small fish and eggs, and seeds. These birds have long legs that aid them in wading and feeding in deep waters. These don't swim to feed; they just wade in the water and peck on their prey. It is also observed to put its head inside to catch its prey. This bird can be seen feeding at night also. It has good nocturnal vision, which enables it to feed at night.
Female incubating the eggs
These birds are quite social and may breed in colonies or might just breed in solitude. Even if they breed in large flocks, the pairs are very protective of their territories. The male and female both equally do their work from nests, right from incubating eggs to raising the chicks. These birds seem to be monogamous in nature. The courtship starts with the male preening or bill-dipping, which is followed by females responding to it. Before the mating starts, the male moves side to side behind the female. The nests are built on the ground or a land floating in water, from where the bird incubating can keep a watch on all sides. The nests are made of shells, sticks, and scrapes. The nesting period is highly variable.
The female lays a clutch of 3 - 4 eggs, and both the parents incubate the eggs. The eggs are tan-colored. Apart from incubating, the males are known to shoo away predators and humans also. The incubation period lasts for around 25 days. As soon as the eggs hatch, the parents remove the shells from the nest, which helps in better camouflage. The chicks hide in the water at night, to avoid predators. The chicks are precocial, which means that they can walk and swim before 24 hours after hatching. The chicks fledge after 4 weeks and are ready to mate when they're 1 - 2 years.
As these birds are abundant in number, their status is not threatened as such, but their habitat may be affected due to a violent occurrence of avian influenza or avian botulism. Also, a change in climate may cause damage to wetlands, which may pose a threat. And in this case, migratory birds may be the ones to suffer due to their habituation to wetlands.
Black-winged stilts migrate locally or over a very long distance. During July to November, the birds residing in the north move to the southern part, like in Africa. They return back in between March to May while staying for only a month at a place. Normally in winter, these birds move towards the ocean coasts. They migrate in flocks and are seen with other shorebirds too.