What water bird did we see?

Whatever it is, we saw it flying last week and again today but we’ve never seen it before in the canal. This is in Columbia, South Carolina, and we’re down there running all the time - we see tons of Great Blue Herons, ducks, Canada geese, egrets, once a kingbird. And enough songbirds to choke a goat. But this thing, we don’t know. I played around on whatbird.com and couldn’t find it - we thought perhaps it was a juvenile of something we’re more familiar with?

It’s fairly large (not quite as big, I think, as the herons but pretty big) and very dark or black all over, or at least on its back and neck. The beak is long and pointy and yellow, like the herons. It had a long neck. Today we saw it paddling around on the canal and diving (it stayed under a good long time and came up a good ways from where it went down.) We haven’t seen it on the shore so we don’t know about its legs. We only saw the one, but there might have been more by the river.


Double-crested cormorants are common, but their beaks are not as long as a heron’s and their faces are yellow more than their beaks. They paddle and dive.

Reading the description, a cormorant came to mind. Cool birds, I’ve seen a couple.

American darter also fits the description

It’s funny, I said “I wonder if it’s a comorant?” but thought that was more of an ocean bird. I don’t believe there was any yellow on this bird’s face - just his beak. I can’t be certain now but I’m pretty sure his face was all dark.

The beak did look much more like the American darter’s, but I was pretty sure it was dark all over (and we did see it flying a few days ago), not silver on its wings. Also I know the ranges on those maps are always sort of guesstimates but do they really come into central South Carolina?

“American darter” is the same thing as an anhinga, for those who are more familiar with the other name. They tend to swim with their bodies submerged and just their necks above water, like little avian Loch Ness Monsters.

Double crested cormorant sounds right for Columbia, SC. Anhinga is a possibility, but doubtful that far from the coast. I never heard of an American darter and it is not in my bird book, unless you are referring to the Anhinga.

This guy was swimming like a duck, unfortunately - no little Nessie. (In a damned fast canal - I always wonder how on earth they do it.)

Better known as the Anhinga, or sometimes Snakebird. If the bill was sharp and pointed instead of hooked at the end, then it was an Anhinga instead of a cormorant.

eBird shows a sighting of an Anhinga on February 1 at “US-SC-Oak Plantation Campground.” While eBird sightings are not always reliable, there are lots more records of Anhinga around Columbia.

You are correct that Double-crested Cormorant is much more common, and it looks like there are a couple dozen recent sightings from the area, but neither species can be ruled out.

Bird Trivia: What does the anhinga have in common with the cardinal?

OK, I’ll bite. What does the anhinga have in common with the cardinal?

Same genus, species, and common name. Sorta.

Anhinga - Anhinga anhinga

Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

A birder told me this years ago.

Besides birds, gorillas fit too. In fact the Western Lowland Gorilla is Gorilla gorilla gorilla.

Yes, Anhinga and Cormorant are both dark bodied and swim in a duck like manner. As Colibri said, the beak shape is the simplest distinguishing characteristic at a distance. The Anhinga has a narrow and pointed beak that is used as a fish spear. (On close examination it even has barbs.) The Cormorant has a much more massive beak with a pronounced hook at the end. It uses this beak to grab, prod, and pry to capture fish and other aquatic creatures.


A buddy of mine had a Blue Headed Pionus parrot. I looked up the genus/species names and found the bird to be Pionus menstruus. The area under the tail has red feathers. Heh.

Some of the old time taxonomists had a weird sense of humor. The specific name of the Paltry Tyrannulet, a very small and totally non-descript flycatcher, is vilissimus, “the most vile,” probably because the guy was totally exasperated after sorting through dozens of skins of little gray birds.:slight_smile:

One of my favorite bird names is the Hoopoo, Upupa epops, whose scientific names are those of the bird in Latin and Greek. All three names imitate the bird’s call.

I’m pretty sure, looking at the beaks of both birds, that it was an anhinga.