Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
|Size||Length: 38 cm (2)|
Wingspan: 75 cm (2)
|Weight||180 g (2)|
- The long, distinctive red legs of the black-winged stilt account for nearly 60 percent of its height.
- Outside of the breeding season the black-winged stilt is a social species and can be found in groups of up to 1,000.
- The black-winged stilt is widespread and occurs across Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.
The black-winged stilt is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
A globally widespread wading bird (3), the black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) is characterised by its extremely long, red legs, white stomach and, true to its name, jet-black wings (4). Its distinctive legs make up around 60 percent of its overall height, providing it with a feeding advantage over other waders in deeper waters (2). Young birds can be distinguished by a dash of dark feathers on the usually white head (4).
The vast geographical range of the black-winged stilt extends as far as Africa, Europe, Asia and even the United States (3). Its population in 2009 was estimated to be between 450,000 and 780,000, with a massive estimated range of 30,800,000 square kilometres (3).
The black-winged stilt can be found on the shores of large, inland water bodies and estuarine or coastal habitats (3). Its breeding habitat is typically freshwater or brackish (slightly salty) wetlands with a sand, mud or clay bed (3).
The diet of the black-winged stilt is variable according to season, but typically comprises aquatic insects, molluscs, crustaceans, spiders, worms, tadpoles, small fish, fish eggs and seeds (3). With its long legs, it can wade into deeper water, where it may be seen snatching insects that hover over the water’s surface, dipping its head below the water to catch small fish, or pulling small worms from the mud (5).
Black-winged stilts residing in northern regions migrate over long distances to reach their southern wintering grounds (3). Although it will often breed in solitude, the black-winged stilt is a typically social bird and can be found in groups of up to a thousand during the winter migration (3).
During breeding, parental investment is high from both male and female birds, with males devoting a significant amount of time to nest building and egg incubation (6). This parental team appears to be monogamous, as while the male stays behind to tend the nest, the foraging female remains faithful (6). The nest is either a depression in hard ground or arranged on a floating mass of vegetation, preferably situated with all-round visibility (3).
Due to its large range and abundance, the black-winged stilt does not qualify for a threatened status on the IUCN Red List (1). However, potential threats include future outbreaks of diseases such as avian influenza and avian botulism (3). As with all waterbird species the effects of climate change, particularly the deterioration of wetlands, also pose a possible future threat (7). Migratory waterbirds in particular may be vulnerable due to their dependence on networks of wetlands (8).
The black-winged stilt is among the species included in the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (8) which aims to conserve migratory waterbird species throughout their flyways (8).
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- Avian botulism: a paralytic, often fatal, disease of birds caused by the ingestion of toxin produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum.
- Avian influenza: also known as “bird flu”, a contagious disease caused by any strain of influenza virus that is carried by and primarily affects birds.
- Crustaceans: diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
- Molluscs: a diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- Monogamous: having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: Profiles of Birds Occurring in Britain and Ireland. BTO Research Report 407, BTO, Thetford. Available at:
BirdLife International (March, 2010)
BirdGuides (March, 2010)
- Meyer, H.L. (1855) Coloured Illustration of British Birds and their Eggs. G. Willis, Convent Garden, London.
- Cuervo, J.J. (2003) Parental role and mating system in the black-winged stilt. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 81(6): 947-953.
- Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A. and Stroud, D.A. (2006) Waterbirds around the World. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh.
AEWA (March, 2010)