HAWAIIAN STILT (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) – Ae’o – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Hawaiian Stilt is a shorebird with very long pink legs (hence the bird’s name, stilt). It also has a long, thin black bill. The head and back are black, and the face and underside are white. The sexes are similar. The length of the bird is around 15 inches (38 cm).
NAME: The English name ‘Stilt’ refers to the very long legs of this bird species relative to the body size. The Latin name ‘Himantopus’ is from Greek and refers to the long thin legs of the species. The word ‘mexicanus’ in the Latin name is due to this bird being a sub-species of the Black-necked Stilt, which is widespread in Mexico and South America. However, the latter is itself sometimes treated as a subspecies of the Black-winged Stilt. And the name ‘knudseni’ was given to this bird in memory of Valdemar Knudsen, a Norwegian sugarcane plantation pioneer in Kauai.
HABITAT: Shallow wetlands.
DIET: Small fish and invertebrates.
NESTING: The Hawaiian stilt nests on mudflats in a shallow depression. This is a species that will fake an injury to try and lure a predator away from its nest.
DISTRIBUTION: Endemic to the main Hawaiian Islands in loose colonies. Bird numbers are under 2,000.
CONSERVATION: The Hawaiian stilt is endangered, for the same reasons as the Hawaiian Coot and the Hawaiian Gallinule. This means from loss of habitat and predation by introduced animals such as the mongoose. In addition, because of its smaller size, it is also hunted by the endemic Black-crowned Night Heron.
SIMILAR SPECIES: See above under ‘Name’.
Fact sheet from Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources: Hawaiian Stilt – Hawaii DLNR – Oct. 2005
These videos below show how elegant and fragile this remarkable bird looks like when foraging: