(2183) Anhinga melanogaster.
THE INDIAN DARTER or SNAKE-BIRD.
Anhinga melanogaster Pennant, Ind. Zool., p. 13 (1769) (India). Plotus melanogaster. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 344.
Vernacular names. Panwa, Pan dulbi (Hind.); Sili (Sind); Goyar (Beng.); Kallaki-Pitta (Tel.) ; Chakuri (Southern Gonds) ; Pambuttara (Tam., Ceylon);. Diya Kawa, Belli Kawa (Cing.); Maniori, Begiagir (Assam).
Description. A white streak from the eye extending some way down the sides of the neck; chin and throat white speckled with brown; remainder of head and neck brown, each feather finely edged paler; upper back blackish-brown, merging into the brown neck, the feathers with pale edges; lower back, rump, upper tail-coverts, tail and lower plumage black, glossed above, more dull below; scapulars, wing-coverts and inner secondaries black with long silver-grey centres to each feather; primaries and outer secondaries black; the innermost secondary and the central tail-feathers are corrugated.
Colours of soft parts. Iris white on an inner wing, yellow on an outer; bill dark horny-brown, the terminal half black and the lower mandible yellowish; legs and feet black.
Measurements. Wing 331 to 357 mm.; tail 202 to 240 mm. -tarsus about 42 to 47 mm.; culmen 74 to 90 mm.
Young birds have the head and neck paler brown, the white streak hardly showing; lower back to upper tail-coverts dark brown; feathers of mantle narrowly edged with rufous and the silver streaks duller and tinged with rufous; under-plum age brown; tail tipped with whity-brown.
Nestling in down pure white but when first hatched naked and black.
Distribution. All India, Burma and the Indo-Chinese countries; the Malay Peninsula to the Celebes and Philippines and West to Mesopotamia.
Nidification. The Snake-bird breeds in Ceylon from January to March on the big inland tanks; in South India most birds lay in the same month but in Sind and all Northern India, Assam and Burma they lay during the late Rains from July to September. In the Calcutta Zoological Gardens they breed in the latter half of June, possibly due to the large fish-supply in the lake inducing them to start early. They often associate in very large colonies for nesting purposes ; some colonies number several hundred but on the other hand, many only number a dozen or less. The nests are well made, rather* larger than those of the Little Cormorant, with which they so often breed, and are placed in trees, generally smallish ones standing in water. The eggs number three or four, more often the former, and are like those of the Cormorants. Sixty average 53.0 X 35.5 mm.: maxima 54.8 X 36.1 and 54.2 x 37.0 mm.; minima 50.7 X 33.6 mm.
Habits. The Darter closely resembles the Cormorants in its habits but is entirely a freshwater bird and will not be found on sea-coasts. As an expert .fisher it surpasses even these birds, swimming at almost incredible pace under water after fish, which it kills by a rapid thrust with its pointed bill. After impaling them it rises to the surface, throws them into the air and catches them as they descend. It is said sometimes to catch them between its mandibles when hunting but I have never seen them do this. Its flight is like that of the Cormorant and its voice similar but much lower. In swimming, although it can and often does rest lightly on the water, it more often is seen with only the head and neck exposed. It has the usual habit of sitting on a stake or branch with its wings " spread out to dry " in the sun.