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Anhinga rufa (African darter)

SlanghalsvoŽl [Afrikaans]; Ivuzi [Xhosa]; Endeda [Kwangali]; Timeletsane-lalanoha [South Sotho]; Gororo, Nyakolwa [Tsonga]; Afrikaanse slangenhalsvogel [Dutch]; Anhinga d'Afrique [French]; Schlangenhalsvogel [German]; Mergulh„o-serpente [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Anhingidae

Anhinga rufa (African darter) Anhinga rufa (African darter)

African darter female, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

African darter male in non-breeding plumage, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches across sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is fairly common in Zimbabwe, northern and eastern Botswana, South Africa and patches of Namibia and Mozambique. It generally favours still or slow-moving bodies of freshwater, especially with dead trees, rocks or banks where it can rest. It is rarely found in fast-moving rivers, estuaries and coastal lagoons.

Distribution of African darter in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

  • Predators of chicks
  • Predators of adults
  • Parasites
    • Pasteurella anatipestifer (a pathogen of ducks which causes septicemia)

Movements and migrations

Little known, but it is thought to be a mainly sedentary, occasionally moving in response to a problem with a wetland, such as a decrease in food availability.


It eats fish, using its webbed feet to dive underwater before stabbing the fish with its bill. It swims more slowly than cormorants, but it compensates by being more stealthy, gliding through the water with just its neck showing and barely producing a ripple. Its feathers are much more water absorbent than most water birds, making it less buoyant and prone to death by cold. It combats this by drying itself after foraging, spreading its wings in the sun. It sometimes hangs motionless in the water, ambushing the fish then coming to the surface to toss it in the air and swallow. The prey may be lost in the process of this manoeuvre: in one case the caught fish was just to large, so after struggling for 30 minutes to swallow it gave up. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Fish
    • Pseudocrenilabrus philander (Southern mouthbrooder)
    • Pharyngochromis acuticeps (Zambezi river bream)
    • Oreochromus mortimeri (Kariba tilapia)
    • Tilapia rendalli (Redbreast tilapia)
    • Brycinus lateralis (Astriped robber)
    • Hydrocynus vittatus (Tigerfish)
    • Hippopotamyrus discorhynchus (Zambezi parrotfish)
    • Barbus anoplus (Chubbyhead barb)
    • Salmo trutta (Brown trout)


  • Monogamous and usually colonial, joining other water birds such as White-breasted and Reed cormorants, African spoonbill and herons in colonies of 10-50 pairs.
  • The nest is built by both sexes in just a day or so, consisting of an untidy platform of sticks or dead reeds, with a shallow cup in the centre which is lined with grass. It is typically placed in a tree fork over water, or alternatively in a reedbed.
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from August-October in the Western Cape but from October-December elsewhere.
  • It lays 2-7 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for roughly 22 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents, leaving the nest after about 5-6 weeks, although they may drop into the water earlier if disturbed; they take their first flight at roughly seven weeks old.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.