‘Devil bird’ Spotted in NJ — and This Could Be Bad News For Us
The dark snake-like waterbird known as the "devil bird" appears to be making itself more comfortable in New Jersey, even though its year-round home is Florida and points south.
The Anhinga — whose name comes from Brazil, meaning "devil bird" or "evil spirit of the woods" — is most widely present in marshy areas of South America and Mexico. But there's been no shortage of Anhinga sightings in the Garden State.
Experts believe climate change is pushing the Anhinga further north. The distinctive bird made headlines recently after a sighting in Brooklyn, New York — the first sighting in the New York City area since 1992, according to New York County Birders.
What is the devil bird?
Likening the Aninga's actions to those of the folklore monster Loch Ness, the website All About Birds says the Anhinga swims underwater and stabs fish with its dagger-like bill.
The Anhinga has also earned the nickname "water turkey" for its turkey-like tail, and "snake bird" for its long snake-like neck.
After every dip into the water, All About Birds says, the Anhinga strikes a regal pose on the edges of the water to dry its waterlogged feathers. Unlike most waterbirds, the Anhinga's feathers aren't waterproof.
"Despite being a waterbird, they soar quite well and are frequently seen soaring at great heights with a distinctive cross-shaped silhouette," the website says.
New Jersey sightings of the devil bird
According to the eBird database, random sightings of the Anhinga in New Jersey date back decades.
The recorded number of sightings appear to pick up significantly in 2021, particularly in the Cape May area.
In 2023, sightings were recorded in Cape May County, Highlands, and the Rockaway Mall, according to eBird. Some observers say they witnessed three Anhingas at one time.
Should devil birds be in New Jersey?
The National Audubon Society says their climate model "troublingly" shows a dramatic northward shift in the Anhinga's range over the next several years.
That shift is a sign of the times, brought on by society's usage of energy sources such as coal and methane gas, advocates say.
"Rising temperatures and shifting weather patterns affect birds' ability to find food and reproduce, which over time impacts local populations, and ultimately continent-wide populations, too," the group says. "Highly and moderately vulnerable birds may lose more than half of their current range — the geographic area where they live — as they are forced to search for suitable habitat and climate conditions elsewhere."
In order to "hold warming steady," the group says, "we must act now" to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere and limit warming to 1.5 degrees.