Australasian Darter

Anhinga novaehollandiae

Male Darter. Photo: John Spiers

Darters swim low in the water and their long, sinuous neck is very snake-like, hence the common name of ‘snake bird’. One of the most entertaining sights along the river is to watch a darter, after it has captured its prey by spearing it, juggle to turn the fish around and swallow it head-first without hands to help. It usually succeeds! Like cormorants they spend a long time with their wings spread out to dry.

Darters feed mainly on fish, but also take amphibians, water snakes, terrapins and aquatic invertebrates. They catch their prey by spearing them under water, and seldom engage in active pursuit.

Close-up details of the female darter. Photo: John Spiers


The time of breeding is dictated by water flows, usually late spring and early summer in South Australia. The nest is a platform of sticks and reeds, in a tree some 2 metres above water level. The clutch is usually from 3 to 5 eggs. Chicks are hatched naked and grow white down.



Close-up of male Darter. Photo: John Spiers



They are generally sedentary but will move if forced to by droughts.

Only the nominate subspecies, Anhinga n. novaehollandiae (Gould, 1847), is found in South Australia.


Males and females much the same size but differ considerably in appearance. The top of the head of the male is rusty-red, the bill is dull yellow, the bare skin is yellow-green and the iris yellow. A broad white stripe extends from the gape down the side of the neck to the nape. The tail feathers, scapulars and primary upperwing coverts are lanceolate and greyish contrasting with the black secondary and tertiary coverts and the overall glossy black body.

Where to find it

Darters are moderately common in the north-east and especially along the River Murray, they are rare elsewhere. They are mainly to be found in still, shallow inland waters but also in slow flowing rivers, swamps and reservoirs. They are less often found in marine habitats but may be encountered is estuaries. Tidal inlets, mangroves and lagoons.