November brings thoughts of roasted turkey and all the accoutrements of traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Although there are wild turkeys in Texas, there are none in Brazoria County and if we want a turkey for Thanksgiving, ours will come from the grocery store. Domestic turkeys are far different from the wild turkeys that are hunted though and wild turkeys are much more fun to watch as they strut and display during breeding season.
There is another turkey that is much more common around the waterways of southern Brazoria County though. At least that is one of this bird’s common names! The Anhinga is called the water turkey because of its broad tail which is similar to a turkey’s. The water of course comes from the fact that Anhinga lives near the water and is commonly seen swimming. This bird lives and nests around fresh water but may be seen closer to salt water during severe droughts. It is a pretty bird and quite graceful. Look for Anhinga along streams, lagoons, or lake edges where trees over hang the water. They can often be seen perched on a tree limb with its wings open drying them much like Turkey Vultures do. Most birds have oil on their feathers that keeps them dry but Anhingas’ feathers actually get wet so they have to dry them.
The male bird is mostly black with silver patches on its wings. Females are more dark brown but with the same silver patches in the wings. The bill is long and pointed and used for stabbing small fish as it swims and dives in shallow water. The neck is long and thin with a small head. Another nickname for the Anhinga is snakebird because when it swims it often keeps its body underwater and all you can see is the long thin neck sticking out. Webbed feet aid in the birds adept swimming.
One of my favorite times of year for closely observing Anhinga is during the breeding season. The coloration around the edges of the eyes is a beautiful bluegreen. The male will begin building a nest before he has even found a mate. Once he has a mate, the female will complete the nest. The female completes the nest by weaving sticks together and padding it with live twigs and green leaves. Usually, the highly territorial males defend any threats to nesting territories with extensive displays and even fighting.
Anhingas often flock into large groups when they are migrating and they can be seen soaring together overhead. They can glide for very long distances without flapping their wings and as they do, they look like a soaring cross. So when you are giving thanks this year, think of the water turkey for a different perspective on your Thanksgiving dinner.