The black-winged stilt. / P. J

The epitome of elegance

The Andalucía Bird Society recommends looking out for the Himantopus himantopus this month

PETER JONES

The black-winged stilt, Himantopus himantopus, is a resident bird for us in Andalucía. Our local birds are joined in the autumn and for the winter by northern birds, and numbers can vary from year to year, but most migrants tend to be confined to coastal wetland areas and salt pans.

An elegant species with their long pink legs and bill, they are part of the avocet/stilt family Recurvirostridae. It is always a challenge to sex these waders, the amount of black on the head and neck can be present in both sexes, but the safest way is the male has a deep black back, whilst the female has a dark brown hue that contrast sharply with the black remiges. Immature birds are much easier with being a pale brown on the wing that contrasts with the grey back.

Our resident birds are widespread throughout the region, occupying coastal and inland wetlands, salt pans, lakes, and ponds (lagunas) and even common on lowland rivers. They can be highly opportunistic, breeding on temporary pools after heavy rains and areas where high water tables produce sporadic lagoons.

A visit to local nature reserves such as the Río Guadalhorce (Malaga) or Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, should reward you with sightings of this beautiful looking bird, referred to as small stork (cigüeñuela común) by our Spanish friends.

Availability of food sources are important to their distribution throughout the region, they feed mostly on insects and crustaceans, the liming attis shrimp Dugastella valentina is an important food source, particularly on river breeding grounds.

Wherever you find these wonderful waders they attract your attention, even if they are somewhat noisy during the breeding season.

Wishing all SUR in English readers a Healthy and Happy New Year.