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Black-winged Stilt - The Bird Model

Originally published in Green Country, Issue 112 (Feb 2015)
Author: Green Power

As their English name suggests, Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) have remarkably long legs. They can be up to 35cm tall, and their legs can be 23 cm long. It has black and white plumage and reddish legs. The reddish colour makes their long legs even more spectacular, and the stilt is nicknamed ‘Redlegged Lady’ in Chinese. In flight, a stilt stretches its legs behind gracefully, forming a straight line. With slim red legs, stylish black and white plumage, and elegant posture, black-winged stilt has earned the name "The Bird Model".

Hong Kong lies on the East AsianAustralasian Flyway, which is one of the most important flyways for migratory birds. Every year, many waterbirds stop over at Mai Po and Deep Bay in Hong Kong to feed and refuel. Black-winged Stilts are mainly spring and autumn passage migrants. Since the discovery of their first nest, built in Mai Po in 2003, the local breeding population has been increasing every year.

Black-winged Stilts are active around lakes, swamps, fish ponds and shrimp ponds. Their long legs allow them to readily move and hunt on mudflats and shorelines. They have sensitive beaks, and by swinging them left and right in the water, they can find food using their senses. Their diet mainly consists of aquatic insects and crustaceans. When they walk across water, their white bellies resemble clouds to the organisms beneath the water. Without being noticed, black-winged stilts are at an advantage as they hunt. They are gregarious, and hunt in groups in the same area.

Never back down on protecting their babies

Every year, starting from February, black-winged stilts build their nests at Mai Po. They lay eggs in April, each time one to four eggs, which take around 25 days to hatch. The parents take turns to incubate the eggs. During the breeding season, these birds display strong territorial behaviour to protect their eggs.

The parents are on guard near their nest to repel intruders. Besides relying on their parents’ protection, the eggs are also camouflaged, reducing their chances of being found by predators.

Black-winged Stilts are precocious. Right after hatching, the chicks can open their eyes and leave their nests. The colour of new born chicks is quite plain. Their heads, necks and backs are brown, similar to mudflats. This camouflage enables them to integrate into the environment. The chance of being detected by their predators is greatly reduced, increasing their chance of survival.

Chicks follow their parents to stroll and hunt. In order to let their young have enough space to grow and to protect them, Black-winged Stilts fight or make loud and unpleasant noises to keep out intruders. Even when facing intruders which are far bigger than they are, these responsible parents show no fear and never step back!

Image
@ Henry Lui
Image
@ Henry Lui
Image
© Henry Lui
Elegant in flight
Image
© Henry Lui
An alerted parent looks around in order to ensure the safety of its young.
Image
© Henry Lui
Chicks are all brown, so they cannot be easily spotted.
Image
© Henry Lui
With their long legs, Black-winged Stilts can hunt in deep waters.

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