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African Darter
(Anhinga rufa)

African Darter

General description

The male is mainly glossy black with white streaking and a very long neck, characteristic of other anhingas. Females are similar, but like juveniles, they are browner.

The pointed bill should prevent confusion with cormorants.

African Darters sit low in the water with their long necks and straight bills giving the appearance of a snake (hence the name Snakebird).

In breeding season the male has a rufous neck, darker plumage, white cheek stripe and prominent mantle plumes.

Name & classification

Scientific name:
Anhinga rufa

Common names:
African Darter, Snakebird (English)
Slanghalsvoƫl (Afrikaans)


Roberts VII english name:
African Darter

Roberts VII scientific name:
Anhinga rufa

Anhingas and Darters (Anhingidae)

Further information



African Darters eat fish, using their webbed feet to dive underwater before stabbing the fish with its bill. It swims more slowly than cormorants, but it compensates by being more stealthy, gliding through the water with just its neck showing and barely producing a ripple.

They sometimes hang motionless in the water, ambushing fish coming to the surface which they toss into the air and swallow. The prey is often lost in this process.

Unlike many other waterbirds the feathers of the African darter do not contain any oil and are therefore not waterproof. Because of this, the bird is less positively buoyant and its diving capabilities are enhanced. After diving for fish, the feathers can become waterlogged. In order to be able to fly and maintain heat insulation, it needs to dry its feathers. Thus the African darter is often seen sitting along the waterside spreading its wings and drying its feathers in the wind and the sun along with cormorants which may share its habitat.

African Darters are monogamous and usually colonial, joining other water birds such as White-breasted and Reed Cormorants, African Spoonbill and Herons in colonies of 10 to 50 pairs.

The nest is built by both sexes in just a day or so, consisting of an untidy platform of sticks or dead reeds, with a shallow cup in the centre which is lined with grass. It is typically placed in a tree fork over water, or alternatively in a reedbed.

Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from August to October in the Western Cape but from October to December elsewhere.

It lays 2-7 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for roughly 22 days.

The chicks are fed by both parents, leaving the nest after about 5 to 6 weeks, although they may drop into the water earlier if disturbed. They take their first flight at roughly seven weeks old.

Natural distribution:
The African Darter is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa wherever large bodies of water occur. Overall the species remains widespread and common.

Darters generally favour still or slow-moving bodies of freshwater, especially with dead trees, rocks or banks where it can rest. It is rarely found in fast-moving rivers, estuaries and coastal lagoons.

Predators of chicks: African Fish-eagle, African Harrier-hawk
Predators of adults: Tawny eagle
Parasites: Pasteurella anatipestifer (a pathogen of ducks which causes septicemia)

Other names: Ivuzi (Xhosa), Endeda (Kwangali)

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