Black-winged stilt

The black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) is a widely distributed very long-legged wader in the avocet and stilt family (Recurvirostridae). The scientific name H. himantopus is sometimes applied to a single, almost cosmopolitan species. Alternatively, it is restricted to the form that is widespread in Europe, Asia and Africa, which equals the nominate group of Himantopus himantopus sensu lato (whereas the black-necked, H. mexicanus, and white-backed stilt, H. melanurus, both inhabit the Americas, and the pied stilt, H. leucocephalus, inhabit southeast Asia to Australia and New Zealand). Most sources today accept 1–4 species.[1][2][3][4][5][6] The scientific name Himantopus comes from the Greek meaning "strap foot" or "thong foot".[7]

Black-winged stilt
H. h. meridionalis (South Africa)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Recurvirostridae
Genus: Himantopus
H. himantopus
Binomial name
Himantopus himantopus
Range of H. himantopus (sensu lato, see text)
  • Charadrius himantopus Linnaeus, 1758


Adults are 33–36 cm (13–14 in) long. They have long pink legs, a long thin black bill and are blackish above and white below, with a white head and neck with a varying amount of black. Males have a black back, often with greenish gloss. Females' backs have a brown hue, contrasting with the black remiges. In the populations that have the top of the head normally white at least in winter, females tend to have less black on head and neck all year round, while males often have much black, particularly in summer. This difference is not clear-cut, however, and males usually get all-white heads in winter.

Immature birds are grey instead of black and have a markedly sandy hue on the wings, with light feather fringes appearing as a whitish line in flight.

Taxonomy and systematics

The taxonomy of this bird is still somewhat contentious. It is one of four distinct species which sometimes are considered subspecies of H. himantopus. H. himantopus sensu lato, is made up of one species and 5–7 subspecies, and is sometimes referred to as common stilt. The name black-winged stilt refers to H. himantopus sensu stricto, with two subspecies H.h. himantopus from the Palearctic and southern Asia, and H.h. meridionalis from the Afrotropical region.[8]

Ecology and status

The breeding habitat of all these stilts is marshes, shallow lakes and ponds. Some populations are migratory and move to the ocean coasts in winter; those in warmer regions are generally resident or short-range vagrants. In Europe, the black-winged stilt is a regular spring overshoot vagrant north of its normal range, occasionally remaining to breed in northern European countries. Pairs successfully bred in Britain in 1987,[9] and after a 27-year hiatus there were two instances of successful breeding in Southern England in 2014.[10] 13 young were fledged in southern England in 2017.[11] Four chicks were successfully fledged in northern England in 2022; this is believed to be the most northerly breeding success for the black-winged stilt.[12][13]

These birds pick up their food from sand or water. They eat mainly insects and crustaceans.

The nest site is a bare spot on the ground near water. These birds often nest in small groups, sometimes with avocets.

The black-winged stilt is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds applies.


  1. BirdLife International (2019). "Himantopus himantopus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2019: e.T22727969A155440465. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T22727969A155440465.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  2. BirdLife International (2008b). "Himantopus leucocephalus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2008b. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  3. BirdLife International (2008c). "Himantopus mexicanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2008c. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  4. "Species factsheet: Black-necked Stilt". BirdLife International (BLI). 2008d. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
  5. "Species factsheet: Black-winged Stilt". BirdLife International (BLI). 2008e. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
  6. "Species factsheet: White-headed Stilt". BirdLife International (BLI). 2008f. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
  7. Jobling, James (2010). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Helm. p. 191.
  8. "Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus (Linnaeus, 1758)". Avibase. Denis Lepage. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  9. Boyd, Bill (1987). "The Black-winged Stilts at Holme Norfolk Naturalists' Trust reserve". Twitching. 1 (6): 148–150.
  10. RSPB. "27-year first as rare black-winged stilt chicks hatch at RSPB reserves in southern England". RSPB Website. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  11. "UK's rare black-winged stilt numbers soar". Countryfile Magazine. BBC. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  12. "Potteric Carr: Black-winged stilt chicks in northern first". Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  13. "Review of the Week: 13-19 June 2022". Retrieved 11 August 2022.

Further reading

  • Hayman, Peter; Marchant, John; Prater, Tony (1986). Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-60237-8.
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