Black-necked Stilts Mate Guarding

by Larry Jordan on March 6, 2012

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) photos by Larry Jordan

These slender wading birds are so elegant in their contrasting plumage and their long, slender reddish legs as they slowly forage through the shallow wetlands. In the photo above, the female Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) is in the foreground with the two darker males behind (click on photos for full sized images).

During breeding season, when Black-necked Stilts are paring up, they can be very territorial and often have confrontations with conspecifics. This is probably a pair that was interrupted by a young female (a pair being recognized as such once a female associates with a male long enough that he tolerates her).

This appears to be “mate guarding” behavior with the “paired” birds in the air explaining to the younger female bird below that she is not welcome.

This entire encounter lasted only two seconds so it was impossible to see exactly what was happening at the time…

but it appears that at the end of the skirmish, the male ended up in the water as the youngster avoided being struck by his legs and the mated female looks on.

I had many opportunities to photograph these interesting waders at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge this day. One of my objectives was to get some good in-flight photos.

This is the female Black-necked Stilt noting the black on her neck is more pale than that of the male.

From these photos of the female coming in for a landing…

you can see that she also has a brown tinge to her back and scapulars…

as she brings her legs forward…

in preparation to land.

I did get a shot of the male Black-necked Stilt in-flight. You can see how much darker and more defined his black markings are in comparison with the female.

I think my favorite photos are of the female foraging. Here she is dipping in the shallows for aquatic invertebrates.

And then, the plunge.

And an inquisitive immature female in alert mode (note the less distinct white spot above the eye in the immature bird).

I thoroughly enjoyed watching and photographing these beautiful, graceful birds. I leave you with a video of the Black-necked Stilt foraging.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

TexWisGirl March 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm

certainly aptly named birds! quite beautiful and graceful – at least until they squabble like gangly teenagers. nice reflections in the video, too.


Ingrid March 6, 2012 at 7:18 pm

What a beautiful series, Larry. And informative. I’ve spent a lot of time watching wading birds like Black-necked Stilts but I didn’t know about the mate guarding behavior. Thanks for the video, too. I miss those shorebird sounds.


Wanda March 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Yes they are quite graceful, despite their unusually long spendly legs. I enjoyed the video and found their foraging quite comical. 🙂


Nick March 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Mate guarding is such a fascinating behavior (no less so in humans), and I really enjoyed this series. With those long legs, one might think of stilts as feeble birds, but your pictures certainly prove otherwise. Thanks for sharing!


Mia McPherson March 6, 2012 at 8:22 pm

This is a great, informative post Larry, they are such beautiful birds.


Carletta March 6, 2012 at 9:33 pm

A bird I didn’t know. Learned a lot here today.
A great series but I really appreciated the landing shot of the wingspan and the drops of water you caught in the plunge.
Happy bird watching!


dreamfalcon March 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Great post, Larry. I do like the photo with the water drops, but all are very good.


Ken Billington March 7, 2012 at 12:44 am

Outstanding images, Larry. This is such a photogenic species.


CameraCruise March 7, 2012 at 2:43 am

Great and informative post of those graceful birds!
Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and video.


Ken Schneider March 7, 2012 at 4:49 am

Very nice series and narrative, Larry! They certainly are such beautiful and graceful birds.


Boom & Gary March 7, 2012 at 4:54 am

The last close ups are excellent!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.


Larry March 7, 2012 at 6:24 am

@Theresa I like that analogy, “gangly teenagers”

@Ingrid thank you! I didn’t know about the mate guarding either until I researched what the heck they were doing!

@Wanda they are an interesting species for sure

@Nick I agree. I had never seen these fragile looking birds being so tough

@Mia thank you very much

@Carletta I was very happy with those shots thanks

@Natalie I liked the way the water droplets show the action too

@Ken thank you

@Mette thanks, you are very welcome

@Ken thank you, I really enjoyed them

@Gary thank you very much!


Andrew March 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Wonderful images of a beautiful bird…


Kelly March 7, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Larry, I loved this post!! One of my favorites. I really enjoyed the video too. I could sit and listen to and watch these birds all day! (Beautiful photos as well…love those action droplets!)


eileen March 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Great post and photos on the Black Necked Stilt. They are pretty birds, they have the sweetest faces and eyes.


wolfsrosebud March 7, 2012 at 2:51 pm

thanks for the lesson… wonderful scrapbook of pics


Mary Howell Cromer March 7, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Larry, this has to be one of the sweetest bird faces ever…what beauties they are. Those expressive faces are amazing and those long pink legs…love these…a new bird for me~


springman March 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Talk about the complete post! You have out done even your high standards this time around. Brilliant photography…you nailed everything!


Larry March 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm

@Andrew they are definitely beautiful birds!

@Kelly thank you so much for your comment! It was a most enjoyable day!

@Eileen sweet faces indeed

@Patricia you are very welcome and thank you for stopping by!

@Mary I hope you get to see these amazing birds some day

@Dave you are too kind! Thank you so much for hosting World Bird Wednesday! You are the best host ever!


Modesto Viegas (Portugal) March 8, 2012 at 4:52 am

Very good post with great series!


Phyllis Oller March 8, 2012 at 6:36 am

Birds are so interesting to watch,I do not know this bird,so am happy to learn.You got great pictures! I will share your last post on my facebook page,have a great weekend,phyllis


Phil (@anotherbirdblog) March 8, 2012 at 8:32 am

Great set of pictures Larry.


Tatjana Parkacheva March 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Excellent photographs.

Regards and best wishes


NatureFootstep March 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm

one of my favourite birds. You got some good shots of them.


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