miked's picture

Himantopus himantopus Black-winged Stilt

Observed: 8th April 2008 By: miked
iSpot team
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Himantopus himantopus Black-winged Stilt
Himantopus himantopus Black-winged Stilt
American Black winged stilt on nest with eggs
American black winged stilt on nest with eggs
Black winged stilt

Not been many birds recently so I wonder if anyone can resolve this one for me. The stilts were taken at pensthorp wildlife park in 2008 but I am not sure if they are european or north american stilts. the species look rather similar to each other but the north american species has more black on like the second image but I think the north american ones alway have some black on the head unlike the first image.

    Likely ID
    Stilt species (Himantopus species)
    Confidence: I'm as sure as I can be.
Species interactions

No interactions present.


DWRay's picture


The Encyclopedia of European Birds pictures Black Winged Stilt similar to your No.1 picture except for a small black skull cap.
Also the legs have a more orange shade.
Unfortunately I have nothing on the Americans!

JonathanWallace's picture

stilt races

According to Hayman, Marchant and Prater's "Shorebirds: An identification guide to the waders of the world" there are a number of geographical races of Himantopus himantopus. Several of these have black on the head and neck but the pattern on the bird on the right wih a black hind neck, nape and crown and a quite extensive white area above the eye seems to best fit the race mexicanus which occurs in N America and northern S America.
The bird on the left appears to lack any black on the head and neck (although its tucked in posture makes it impossible to be certain there is no black on the back of the neck) which would suggest it is the nominate form which occurs in Eurasia. If there is black on the back of its neck it could also be an example of the Australian pied stilt Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus.
Of course, if the birds are kept together in a bird collection it is possible that they may interbreed in which case the progeny of such a union would not fit into any of the normally recognised wild races.
With respect to the remark above by DWRay, the nominate form shows some variation in its crown markings which range between pure white and dusky grey.

Jonathan Wallace

RoyW's picture

One of each.

I would say that you have a Eurasion/African stilt on the left (with the white head), and an American "Black-necked Stilt" on the right (with both looking like males).
As far as I know these are still treated as races of one species, so if you enter Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus, the ID will be right for both (H. h. himantopus on the left, H. h. mexicanus on the right).

RoyW's picture

Different species...

After checking, it seems that most authorities that deal with bird taxonomy including the AOU, IOC, Clements, and Sibley & Monroe) do now treat these as separate species:
Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus
& Black-necked Stilt H. mexicanus

bobthebirder's picture


I agree with the above comments, H. h. himantopus on the left (male) and H. h. mexicanus on the right (also a male)

Bob Ford

miked's picture

Interesting then that they

Interesting then that they were all in (and breeding?) together, also avocets in there. could just be natural variation in a small population that has been captive for quite a number of years? Perhaps pensthorpe people themselves might have an idea about this.

RoyW's picture

Hopefully the Pensthorpe staff know!

I really would hope that at least those in charge of the collections know what species (race?) the individuals in their collections are! Imagine how poor captive breeding schemes would be if the identity of the breeding stock wasn't properly known.

It's certainly not unknown for different species/races from around the world to be kept together, and hybrids are sometimes produced as a result.
I would be surprised if these two were results of variation within one "form" of stilt, although I suppose that it is possible that a white headed bird could be a Black-necked Stilt with partial leucism affecting just the feathers on the head and neck.

Andrew Goodall's picture


The two photographs in my opinion are both Black-Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) from the old world. This species shows variation on the head pattern ranging from almost totally white to almost totally black.The two photographs are both adult birds.

The adult Black-Necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)shows a white spot above and behind the eye, this is completely encircled by black so I have to disagree with the id of J Wallace, Roy W and bob the birder. It also has a band running from the back of the lower neck, down and forwards along the side of the breast but not meeting at the front.

Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus is the Australian race of the old world stilt and just has a black nape, back and wings on an otherwise white body.



RoyW's picture

I can't agree...

While I'm not going to say that the right hand bird is definitely mexicanus (Black-necked Stilt), I have to disagree, almost entirely, with Andrews reasoning.

Adult himantopus (Black-winged Stilts) are extremely variable on the head, and some are almost entirely black on the top of the head and back of the neck. However, these individuals invariably do not show an obvious white spot above the eye and have a band of white between the black on the neck and the black back.
I have looked through the 347 photos of Black-winged Stilt on Birdguides.com, and the first 50 pages of images brought up on a google search for "Black-winged Stilt" (which also bring up some mexicanus and leucocephalus), and I have only found a single bird that seems to have the black neck joining the back (perhaps there is a break, or partial break, but it is obscured??):
Some birds appear to have no 'gap' if the neck isn't extended, but it is there is you look closely (or at other photos of the same bird - eg a bird in Glamorgan in April-May 2008 on Birdguides, & this dark necked bird in the middle-east: http://www.firecrest-wildlife-photography.co.uk/Middle-East/Image-pages/... ).

On mexicanus, the white spot over the eye is very variable in size, and although it is typically encircled in black, this can be very narrow - even broken - in front of the eye. Photos showing this in adult males were found after checking the first 15 pages of a google image search (with females and immatures more commonly showing no border at the front - eg. a female in the 12 photos of Black-necked Stilt on Birdguides): http://www.billhubick.com/photos/updates/20060730.php
In the photo posted here it is perhaps possible that a thin black border is present, but can't be seen because the bird is looking away slightly.

As for the black band protuding forward at the sides of the breast, this can be seen in any stilt with a largely dark neck, but it is dependant on posture, and only shows if the neck is not extended (see the first linked Black-winged Stilt photos for an example).

You will need to scroll down if viewing some of the links.

miked's picture

OK, I have added a couple

OK, I have added a couple more images of the bird with chicks and eggs just incase this helps, these were taken in same place several years previously. Note these images may get removed as nest photos not really allowed on ispot even though these were captive birds.
Last image is the Titchwell stilt which was on the marshes for several years, not sure if its still there.

RoyW's picture

New images.

Now no doubt at all in my mind that the two right hand photos (including the one on the nest) show Black-necked Stilts.

"Sammy" the Titchwell stilt was last seen in May 2005. It's possible that he originally came from Pensthorpe!