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What is a Darter?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Darter is a blanket term for a whole family of waterfowl that are also called snakebirds. There are four species in this family, including the African darter, Australian darter, Indian darter, and the American water turkey. All these species have long necks and pointed beaks. They generally live in very warm environments and prefer fresh water. Darters have a wide range of vocalizations, from clicks to groans and squawks, and they vary their calls depending on the situation and their location.

Birds in the darter family earned the name snakebird because of their long neck. When they're swimming, the neck can sometimes resemble a water snake's. They earned the name because of their spear-like method of catching food. Anhingidae is the scientific name for the entire family of birds.

Darters mainly eat fish. They hunt by stalking around in the water and searching for a good target, and then they dive down quickly, stabbing the fish with their sharp-tipped bills. They have very strong neck muscles that allow them to shoot their heads forward with fairly significant force, which helps make this technique more effective. After they spear something, the birds have a useful trick of throwing their prey into the air off their bills and then grabbing it as it falls.

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Since darters generally prefer fresh water, they can usually be found swimming in lakes, swamps, and rivers. The oriental darter is currently considered an endangered species, mostly because of habitat destruction. The rest of the darter family birds have relatively healthy populations.

On land, darters tend to gather in fairly large groups of up to 100 birds. They have a reputation for extreme territoriality, and their beaks are such a dangerous weapon that they can generally do a lot of damage if angered. It is not uncommon for them to stab at other birds that approach, especially when they have a nest with chicks. Males generally have a greater tendency for this sort of aggression than females.

Darters tend to form pair bonds for breeding purposes, but that bond is not necessarily for life, and it may end after one breeding season. These birds have a fairly large number of special breeding behaviors, including several greetings and various demonstrations. They build their nests out of plant material and usually put them in trees. Typically, the females lay a clutch of four eggs, which are incubated for about 27 days. Both parents care for the chicks.

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