A common sight along river banks, brackish wetlands, lakes and other waterways, Australasian Darters are widespread in Australia other than the desert habitats of the Nullabor, Great Sandy and the Great Victoria Desert. A beautiful slender waterbird, they can often be seen with their wings spread, drying off after diving for fish.
The male darter is predominantly brownish-black with silver lacing on the wings and a white stripe through the eye and cheek that runs about a third of the way down their neck. Females are light cream or greyish-white on the front with a greyish-brown back. They also have the same white stripe through the eye and cheek and a silvery lace pattern on their wings. Juveniles are similar to females until the males begin to moult into darker plumage.
Diet of the Australasian Darter
Darters are often called ‘snakebirds’ due to their habit of swimming just below the water with only their slender head and beak visible above the surface. With their body partially submerged and their plumage saturated, they can dive rapidly for fish they spear with their beak. Then, returning to the surface, Darters toss and swallow their catch whole. They also eat invertebrates, including shrimp, flies, and water beetles.
Unfortunately, because they dive for food, Darters are vulnerable to getting their beaks entangled in rubbish, debris and fishing lines discarded by people around their habitat. As a result, the birds often starve because they can’t fish once their beak becomes entangled.
Australasian Darter Breeding Habits
Darters usually only breed once a year but may raise another brood after seasons with good rainfall resulting in good food supplies. Darters often nest in trees that overhang a water source alongside other waterbird species. Both the male and female brood and feed the young, using their wings to shade the chicks in the heat. Pairs do not remain together after raising their young but return to a solitary existence until they decide to breed again.