Named for the broad, conspicuous, reddish-chestnut band present across its breast during the breeding season (2) (4) (5), the banded stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus) is a highly distinctive bird that flies with flickering wingbeats (3).
The head, back and underparts of the banded stilt are white (2) (3), punctuated only by the dark breast-band, which spreads downwards into a blackish-brown belly patch (3). Except for the pure white secondary feathers, the uppersides of the wings are entirely black, while the undersides are mostly white (3) (5). The banded stilt’s tail is generally white, although it is usually discoloured with grey-brown hues (3).
The banded stilt’s slender black bill is straight or slightly upcurved (2) (3) (5), and its eyes are dark (3). In contrast, the banded stilt’s legs are a bright orange or pink (2) (3), and these long limbs end in partially webbed toes (3).
In its non-breeding plumage, the adult banded stilt looks similar to the breeding adult, although the breast-band and belly patch often fade and become poorly defined due to the addition of white- and brown-tipped feathers (2) (3). Male and female banded stilts are similar in appearance (3). The juvenile banded stilt looks much like the adult bird, although it lacks the dark chest-band and belly patch, and generally has much duller plumage.
The banded stilt’s call is said to be wheezy and sound somewhat like a puppy barking (4). The barking call is described as ‘chowk’ or ‘chowk-uk’, and flocks of individuals calling at the same time can be extremely loud (3).
- Also known as
- Australian banded stilt, Rottnest snipe.
- Length: 36 - 45 cm (2) (3)
- 205 - 225 g (2)
Banded stilt biology
A migratory species (9), the gregarious banded stilt spends the southern summer in large flocks on coastal saltpans and other similar habitats (3) (6) (8), only moving inland to breed (4) (6) (8).
Brine shrimps are the principal component of the banded stilt’s diet (2) (3) (8), and this distinctive bird searches for prey by probing its bill into the soft mud as it wades or swims in the shallows (3) (5).
The banded stilt’s breeding strategy is somewhat unusual. An opportunistic species, it waits until the rains have fallen and filled large, temporary salt lakes within Australia’s arid interior before flocking to the area to form large breeding colonies on islands within the floodlands (2) (3) (4) (6) (8). As this species relies on rainfall to trigger the breeding season, it is thought that the banded stilt may only breed once every couple of years (10).
Stilt species are generally monogamous, although pair bonds are usually only maintained for a single season (10). Like other stilt species, the banded stilt builds a simple nest, into which three to four chalky-white eggs are laid (4) (10). The eggs are incubated by both the male and the female banded stilt (10). Uniquely among waders, the newly hatched banded stilt chicks are covered in pure white down, and the chicks are able to swim and feed themselves from a very young age (3). Whereas other stilt species care for their young for several months, the banded stilt chicks collect together in large crèches, which may be composed of several hundred chicks (3) (10).
Banded stilt range
The banded stilt is endemic to Australia (2) (3) (4) (6) (7), and is mainly found in the inland and southern parts of the country (6).
Species with a similar range
Banded stilt habitat
During dry, non-breeding periods, the banded stilt tends to concentrate near the coast, where it can be found on small, shallow and scattered coastal lagoons (6) (8). This species also occurs on tidal flats, salt lakes and marshes, commercial saltpans, and occasionally on estuaries (2) (3) (4) (5).
Within days of rain falling, the banded stilt moves inland to breed on islands within temporary floodlands and newly formed shallow lakes (4) (6) (8).
Species found in a similar habitat
Banded stilt status
The banded stilt is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Banded stilt threats
The banded stilt has a very large range and a large population size (7), and no major threats to this species are currently known.
Banded stilt conservation
As it is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (7), at present there are no known conservation measures in place for the banded stilt.
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- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- Secondary feathers
- The shorter flight feathers projecting along the inner edge of a bird’s wing.
IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
BirdLife International (2011) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. Dorling Kindersely Ltd., London.
Marchant, J., Hayman, P. and Prater, T. (2010) Shorebirds. A&C Black Publishers, London.
Campbell, B. and Lack, E. (2011) A Dictionary of Birds. A&C Black Publishers, London.
Leach, J.A. (2005) An Australian Bird Book: A Complete Guide to the Identification of Australian Birds. Kessinger Publishing, Montana, U.S.
Thomas, R., Thomas, S., Andrew, D. and McBride, A. (2011) The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
BirdLife International - Banded stilt (October, 2012)
Newton, I. (2003) Speciation and Biogeography of Birds. Academic Press, London.
Schreiber, E.A. and Burger, J. (2001) Biology of Marine Birds. CRC Press, U.S.
MobileReference (2009) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of European Birds: An Essential Guide to Birds of Europe. MobileReference, Boston, Massachusetts.