Stay in the know about wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in Southwest Florida

Shorebird Feature: Black-Necked Stilt

May 27, 2024
black necked stilt

Each year, black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) nest in Southwest Florida beginning in March or April.  

“These charismatic long-legged shorebirds are a favorite among birders and photographers visiting Sanibel,” said SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht. “Their long legs put them second only to flamingos for length of legs in proportion to body size!”

Black-necked stilts can be seen foraging on insects and small crustaceans at various wetlands around the island, Albrecht said. They prefer shallow wetlands with little vegetation and tend to nest on small islands. 

“In recent years, an increased number of black-necked stilt nests have been documented on Sanibel,” Albrecht said. “Major changes to habitat as a result of Hurricane Ian may have led to increased suitable nesting habitat for stilts and other marsh birds. It’s also possible that some nesting areas were less accessible before the hurricane, or their views were previously obscured by vegetation.” 

Black-necked stilts’ nests are like many other shorebird species — shallow scrapes (depressions) in the mud or sand, sometimes lined with shells or pebbles. Their incubation lasts approximately four weeks, and the chicks are precocial, meaning they are able to move around on their own shortly after hatching. Under the watchful eye of both parents, chicks fledge four to five weeks after hatching. 

These birds have a quirky strategy for deterring predators called a “popcorn display,” during which a group of stilts gather around a predator and hop and flap around it to push it away from a nest. 

“Though black-necked stilts are considered a species of low concern for conservation, they are still subject to threats and impacts, and so are their wetland habitats,” Albrecht said. “Wetlands around the world are being lost or degraded from pollution, development, fragmentation, and invasive species, yet many important animals like black-necked stilts depend on wetlands to survive and reproduce.”

Black-necked stilts usually leave Sanibel around August, when they head back to their year-round habitats in central and South America. 

While not listed as threatened or endangered, black-necked stilts, their nests, and their young are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, meaning it’s illegal to kill, capture, sell, trade, or transport them.

Help Protect Stilts and other Wetland-Nesting Birds

  • Consider limiting the use of pesticides and herbicides that can run off into water bodies and impact water quality.
  • Always observe birds from a respectful distance. If the adults are loudly calling, or engaging in popcorn displays, you are likely too close to a nest or chicks. 
  • If you suspect there is a stilt nest that is at risk of being disturbed or damaged, let SCCF’s shorebird team know by contacting


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