Black-winged stilt

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Black-winged stilt
Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus).jpg
H. h. himantopus
at iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Neoaves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Charadrii
Family: Recurvirostridae
Genus: Himantopus
Species: H. himantopus (disputed)
Binomial name
Himantopus himantopus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

1–7, see text

The black-winged stilt, common stilt, or pied stilt (Himantopus himantopus) is a widely distributed very long-legged wader in the avocet and stilt family (Recurvirostridae). Opinions differ as to whether the birds treated under the scientific name H. himantopus ought to be treated as a single species and if not, how many species to recognize. The scientific name Himantopus comes from the Greek meaning "strap foot" or "thong foot".[2] Most sources today accept 2–4 species.[3][4][5][6][7][8]


Adults are 33–36 cm (13–14 in) long. They have long pink legs, a long thin black bill and are blackish above and white below, with a white head and neck with a varying amount of black. Males have a black back, often with greenish gloss. Females' backs have a brown hue, contrasting with the black remiges. In the populations that have the top of the head normally white at least in winter, females tend to have less black on head and neck all year round, while males often have much black, particularly in summer. This difference is not clear-cut, however, and males usually get all-white heads in winter.

Immature birds are grey instead of black and have a markedly sandy hue on the wings, with light feather fringes appearing as a whitish line in flight.

Taxonomy and systematics

The taxonomy of this bird is still somewhat contentious. Some describe as many as five distinct species; others consider some or all of these to be subspecies. In addition, two dubious subspecies are also sometimes listed, but not as independent species. In the most extensive circumscription, with one species and 5–7 subspecies, this bird is often called common stilt. The name black-winged stilt on the other hand can specifically refer to the Old World nominate subspecies. The commonly accepted taxa are:

  • Black-winged stilt proper (Himantopus himantopus himantopus or H. himantopus) (Linnaeus, 1758) – including proposed subspecies meridionalis (S Africa) and ceylonensis (Sri Lanka)
  • Found from southern North America through Central America and the Caribbean to northern Peru and northeastern Brazil. Northernmost populations migrate south in winter. Intergrades with white-backed stilt in central Brazil.
  • Head and neck always white with black cap down to the eyeline, has a white spot above eye and a black hindneck. Usually shows no white band across upper back, but often has a vestigial open black chest band.
White-backed stilts (H. h. melanurus) Pantanal, Brazil
  • White-backed stilt (Himantopus himantopus melanurus, Himantopus mexicanus melanurus or H. melanurus) (Vieillot, 1817)
  • Found in South America from central Peru and northern Chile to southeastern Brazil and south to south central Argentina. Intergrades with black-necked stilt in central Brazil.
  • Head and neck are usually white with black hindneck and a black line from the nape to the eye. Usually has an open black chest band and a white band across upper back.
At Mangaon, Maharashtra, India
  • Found from Java to New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. A southern population winters in the Philippines region.
  • Head is usually all-white, the neck is white, black behind and with an open black chest band. Usually sports a white band across the upper back.
  • Hawaiian stilt or āeʻo (Himantopus himantopus knudseni, Himantopus mexicanus knudseni or H. knudseni) (Stejneger, 1887)
  • Found in the Hawaiian Islands, where it is the only breeding shorebird
  • Generally similar to the black-necked stilt, but black on head and neck is more extensive, usually extending below the eye.

Ecology and status

The breeding habitat of all these stilts is marshes, shallow lakes and ponds. Some populations are migratory and move to the ocean coasts in winter; those in warmer regions are generally resident or short-range vagrants. In Europe, the black-winged stilt is a regular spring overshoot vagrant north of its normal range, occasionally remaining to breed in northern European countries. Pairs have successfully bred in Britain in 1987,[12] and after a 27-year hiatus, two instances of successful breeding in Southern England in 2014.[13]

These birds pick up their food from sand or water. They mainly eat insects and crustaceans.

The nest site is a bare spot on the ground near water. These birds often nest in small groups, sometimes with avocets.

Egg of Himantopus himantopus, MHNT

The Hawaiian population is endangered due to habitat loss and probably also introduced predators. The IUCN recognizes 3 species at present, merging the Hawaiian and South American birds with the black-necked stilt; consequently, none of the three is listed as a threatened species.[3][4][5] The black-winged stilt is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds applies.

Immature plumages and flight view


  1. BirdLife International (2014). "Himantopus himantopus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 24 June 2015.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Jobling, James (2010). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Helm. p. 191.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 BirdLife International (BLI) (2008a). Himantopus himantopus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 BirdLife International (BLI ) (2008b). Himantopus leucocephalus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 BirdLife International (BLI) (2008c). Himantopus mexicanus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  6. "Species factsheet: Black-necked Stilt". BirdLife International (BLI). 2008d. Retrieved 24 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Species factsheet: Black-winged Stilt". BirdLife International (BLI). 2008e. Retrieved 24 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Species factsheet: White-headed Stilt". BirdLife International (BLI). 2008f. Retrieved 24 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. VanderWerf, Eric A.; Wiles, Gary J.; Marshall, Ann P.; Knecht, Melia (2006). "Observations of migrants and other birds in Palau, April–May 2005, including the first Micronesian record of a Richard's Pipit". Micronesica. 39 (1): 11–29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Wiles, Gary J.; Worthington, David J.; Beck, Robert E. Jr.; Pratt, H. Douglas; Aguon, Celestino F.; Pyle, Robert L. (2000). "Noteworthy Bird Records for Micronesia, with a Summary of Raptor Sightings in the Mariana Islands, 1988–1999". Micronesica. 32 (2): 257–284.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Wiles, Gary J.; Johnson, Nathan C.; de Cruz, Justine B.; Dutson, Guy; Camacho, Vicente A.; Kepler, Angela Kay; Vice, Daniel S.; Garrett, Kimball L.; Kessler, Curt C.; Pratt, H. Douglas (2004). "New and Noteworthy Bird Records for Micronesia, 1986–2003". Micronesica. 37 (1): 69–96.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Boyd, Bill (1987). "The Black-winged Stilts at Holme Norfolk Naturalists' Trust reserve". Twitching. 1 (6): 148–150.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. RSPB. "27-year first as rare black-winged stilt chicks hatch at RSPB reserves in southern England". RSPB Website. Retrieved 16 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Hayman, Peter; Marchant, John; Prater, Tony (1986). Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-60237-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links