Banded and Black-winged Stilts
Stilts are tall, elegant, long (pink) -legged wading birds; there are two species in Australia, the Banded Stilt and the Black-winged or White-headed Stilt, both of which can be seen on the Wilson Inlet. The White-headed Stilt has only recently had its name changed; although it is still confusing as the Banded Stilt also has a white head – and black wings for that matter! Fortunately adult Banded Stilts are easily identified by their broad chestnut band running across their breast.
Stilts can feed in relatively deep water because of their long legs; they catch insects and invertebrates from the surface of the water and also small molluscs. They can be found towards the mouth of the inlet in summer, to the east of the Hay River mouth and also at Nenamup Inlet. In the Wilson Inlet, once the channel linking the Inlet to the sea closes, the water evaporates and the level drops increasing the area available for feeding. In 2019 when the Inlet level dropped to 0.43m below sea level (AHD) there were up to 1300 stilts feeding near Poddyshot, mostly Banded Stilts.
Both species breed in Australia, the Black-winged tends to disperse to inland lakes and swamps to breed singly and with greater regularity. Banded Stilts breed communally after heavy rains at favoured locations which support vast numbers of brine shrimps. These breeding events are rare, perhaps only occurring every five to ten years and they are usually accompanied by large numbers of predators; gulls, kites, crows and ravens as well as cats and foxes. The colony is usually located on an islet within the salt lake, with nests about 0.7m apart, 3 or 4 eggs are laid. The eggs are relatively large compared to the size of the bird and chicks take only 3-weeks to hatch increasing their chance of survival. The chicks usually form into crèches and are relatively independent, feeding on the brine shrimps. There are a lot of risks with these events; lakes may dry-out before the chicks have fledged or the colony may be overwhelmed by predators. This “opportunistic” breeding makes the species more vulnerable than the Black-winged Stilt. Given the rain we’ve had this year, hopefully there has been some breeding success somewhere and the birds will congregate once again on the Wilson Inlet.