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. Most sources today accept 2–4 species.
Adults are 33–36 cm 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 believe that there are 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:
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 vagrants north of its normal range, occasionally remaining to breed in northern European countries, for example in Britain in 1987.
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.
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 threatened species. The Black-winged Stilt is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds applies.
photo: Mihai BACIU