It has been quite a while since we saw the wader with the longest legs. In fact it has been a while since we saw any waders as our Portuguese winter sojourn has been delayed, hence also the lack of regular posts this autumn. All being well though we will be back in January, and once again I will be posting weekly as well as comparing my pins to the long pins of stilts!
Stilts can be found almost everywhere around the world, usually in marshes and mudflats, or on the edges of lakes and rivers. There are white-backed stilts in South America, black necked stilts in America including a subspecies Hawaiian stilt, black stilts in New Zealand, pied stilts in Australasia, banded stilts in Australia and black winged stilts in Africa and Eurasia. All, apart from the very rare black stilt and the endangered Hawaiian stilt, are common waders. We regularly see black-winged stilts on Portugal’s coastal estuaries and even occasionally inland on the banks of the Guadiana.
Their diet is invertebrates, especially aquatic insects, and they feed whilst wading often in water above ‘knee’. They can swim but it is such a rare occurrence if we ever see them swimming are always confused for a few moments as to what bird it is! Otherwise they are unmistakable thanks to their black and white markings, repeated high pitched calls and those incredible long legs; 60% of their height is leg!
Overall the numbers of black-winged stilts seem to be increasing, however numbers in some places of Europe and Africa are declining because the wetland habitats where they live are being lost and degraded by human activity and climate change. We have certainly noticed a fall in numbers in the salt pans around Olhão, but guess only time will tell if this is a permanent change or simply a reflection of the recent dry and warm winters.
On the upside, as with many birds, their migration habits are changing. They were once a summer visitor in Portugal, but these days are observed year round in the Mondego, Tagus and Sado estuaries as well as the Ria Formosa. For more details on where to see the ‘Pernilongo’ in Portugal visit Aves de Portugal, and for more photographs visit my reflections post.