stilt and chick

Of the five sub species of pied stilt, leucocephalus extends from the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Bismarck Archepelago to Australia and new Zealand. Pied stilts are more generally known as black-winged stilt overseas and breed all around the world in tropical and warm temperate climates.

The ornithologist W.R.B. Oliver says, “In my opinion the Australian and New Zealand pied stilts should together be maintained as a species distinct from the northern H. himantopus, firstly, because in the adult stage it has the hind neck black whereas in H. himantopus it is white, and, secondly, it has a black counterpart in H. novaezealandiae with which it interbreeds.”

Edgar F. Stead writes of the pied stilt; “Despite the fact that stilts are of proportions that are somewhat unusual, their movements at all times are exceedingly graceful. When walking slowly in shallow water, they raise each foot above the surface as they proceed, putting it down again very daintily, the proceeding giving the effect of a consciously elegant, if not mincing, gait. During flight, which is strong and swift, the legs trail behind.

“The call of the stilt is a sharp yapping, not unlike that of a toy poodle.

“The stilt occurs on river–beds, shores of lakes and lagoons, or on marshy margins of estuaries. It breeds in all these places, the nest never being situated at any great distance from water. When the birds breed on shingle or stony ground, the nests exhibit a considerable variation in the amount of building material that they contain. Sometimes only a few twigs or rootlets are added to a shallow depression scraped among the stones — scarcely sufficient, indeed, to form a ring around the eggs which lie on the bare ground within; at other times, quite a lot of material is gathered and laid down,, so that the eggs are supported on it. When the nest is placed in swamps, however, it is usually of much more solid construction, being composed of bits of grass, rushes, or waterweed, together with tufts of the roots of swamp grasses; the whole being from four to six inches high, and having a shallow cavity at its apex for the eggs. Yet occasionally on wet ground I have found nests so skimpy that the eggs rested on mud beneath, and were sometimes thickly daubed with it.

“Stilts are gregarious birds, even during the nesting season, and it is usual to find several nests togther if the locality offers a sufficient food supply; while in very favourable situations I have seen colonies numbering a hundred pairs or more.

“The food of stilts consists of insects and their larvae, worms and small shellfish, which the birds obtain by wading, often knee deep in water.

“Stilts begin mating in August and are very noisy at this time, yapping even in the intervals of their feeding. They make a great fuss if anyone goes near their nest, flying to a height, and then dashing straight at the intruder, and giving a harsh cry as they pass close overhead and turn upwards again. Intimidation failing, they try to divert attention to themselves by simulating injury, shamming broken broken legs or wings in a most realistic manner.

“The young when hatched are covered with down, the upperparts being yellowish fawn, freely spotted with black, while the front of the neck and the under parts are almost white, and devoid of any markings. These young walk about on their long thin legs with a very dainty air, yet giving also the impression of great assurance. When danger threatens they squat close to the ground, remaining motionless, and are very difficult to detect, particularly if among stones; though they also have a wonderful faculty for hiding themselves in short grass.”

pied stilt and black stilt
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Black-winged stilt, white-headed stilt.

Description:  — 

Native bird

35 cm., 190 g., black and white wader with very long pink legs and fine black bill. Varibale black on crown, nape, hindneck and collar on the lower neck, black wings and back.

Where to find:  — 

Widespread throughout rural New Zealand.

Illustration description: — 


Dresser, Henry, Birds of Europe, 1871-1896.

Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840-48.

Reference(s): — 


Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Stead, Edgar F., Life Histories of New Zealand Birds, 1932.

Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Page date & version: — 


Friday, 27 November 2020; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.