RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – Strolling the shallows on impossibly lengthy, slender pink legs the black-necked stilt probes for aquatic morsels with its long, thin, black bill.
Clad elegantly in contrasting black and white plumage, the immaculately attired shorebird appears to have donned its finest tuxedo for the watery walk.
This pair of stilts patrols a coastal marsh along the Laguna Madre and has selected a slight sandy rise as their nest site.
Throughout the day they take turns sheltering three eggs, and on this morning the female rises at dawn to exchange incubation duties with her mate. As she strolls off for breakfast, he promptly crouches on the clutch, tucking his long pink legs beneath him and quivering his feathers settling himself just right on the delicate eggs.
Both the male and female are similar, but the female has a slight wash of brown on her back while the male maintains a glossier black feathering.
During the day they switch positions dozens of time. This sharing of incubation duties affords each parent the opportunity to stretch its legs and secure sustenance. The fact that the returning bird often has damp belly feathers also helps keep the eggs cool.
They normally take some 25 days to hatch, and throughout the incubation period both parents guard the eggs from any bird or other potential threat that ventures close.
However, despite their devotion to careful incubation and vigilance for danger, something devoured the eggs during a recent night. Most likely it was a raccoon or possibly a coyote that ate them.
As dawn broke on the morning of anticipated hatching, rather than the appearance of fluffy precocial chicks the nest was starkly empty.
Black-necked stilts can live for 12 years or more and often mate for life. This pair of bonded birds may attempt to re-nest, and if so, hopefully the outcome will be successful.