Family Avocets, Stilts (Recurvirostridae)

Least Concern

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)


French: Échasse blanche German: Stelzenläufer Spanish: Cigüeñuela común

Charadrius Himantopus


, 1758,

southern Europe


Closely related to H. novaezelandiae, with which known to hybridize and which is sometimes considered conspecific. Races often considered to warrant recognition of 2–5 distinct species. Races can be split into three groups (nominate; “pied” race leucocephalus; and “black-necked” races knudseni, mexicanus and melanurus); four groups (as preceding one, but with melanurus separated out as a full species); or five monotypic groups (as indicated here, below). One recent author#R treated each of the forms himantopus, leucocephalus, knudseni and mexicanus (but not, puzzlingly, melanurus) as a separate species, but provided no supporting evidence. Patterns of differentiation on the head are notable but thematically recurrent (e.g. similar between knudseni and mexicanus, and between leucocephalus and melanurus), and typical calls of nominate and leucocephalus apparently differ, latter giving lower-pitched, shorter notes#R. With the (current) limited availability of vocal evidence indicating differences between taxa, however, the case for treating this complex as anything but a single species with variations in the amount and distribution of black on the head and neck is hard to make. Geographical variation also claimed in S Africa and Sri Lanka, in respective forms meridionalis and ceylonensis, but both exhibit considerable overlap with other populations of nominate himantopus. Five subspecies normally recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • H. h. himantopus (Linnaeus, 1758) – Black-winged Stilt – France and Iberia S to sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, and E to C Asia and NC China, Indian Subcontinent (including Sri Lanka), Indochina and Taiwan; winters S to Africa, Middle East and S & SE Asia to Borneo and Philippines.
  • H. h. leucocephalus Gould, 1837 – Pied Stilt – S Sumatra and Java E to New Guinea, and S to Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand; winters N to Philippines, Greater Sundas and Sulawesi, and as far as Sri Lanka#R.
  • H. h. knudseni Stejneger, 1887 – Hawaiian Stilt – Hawaiian Is.
  • H. h. mexicanus (Statius Müller, 1776) – Black-necked Stilt – W & S USA through Central America and West Indies to Colombia, N Venezuela, Galapagos, E Ecuador to SW Peru, and NE Brazil.
  • H. h. melanurus Vieillot, 1817 – White-backed Stilt – Chile and EC Peru through Bolivia and Paraguay to SE Brazil, and S to SC Argentina.
  • Descriptive notes

    35–40 cm; 166–205 g (mean of all races), or 112–223 g (nominate), 138–208 g (leucocephalus), 136–202 g (mexicanus), 216–... read more


    Quite vocal, but mostly during breeding season. Most-frequently heard call a repeated nasal,... read more


    Shallow wetlands of tropical and temperate regions. Breeding habitats mainly freshwater sites,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Carnivorous, preying on great variety of small, mainly aquatic, invertebrates and vertebrates, occasionally seeds. Main prey types are... read more


    Timing very variable over massive range due in part also to opportunistic nature: seasonal or after rain in tropical regions, e.g. mainly... read more


    Sedentary in places, but local movements to long-distance migration elsewhere, with one French-... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Huge, near-cosmopolitan range and local abundance indicate species secure for present, but controversial taxonomy calls for analysis... read more

    Recommended citation

    Pierce, R.J. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 29 March 2020).