Audubon reported that the diurnal Anhinga was called, among other names, “Bec à Lancette,” “Snake-Bird,” or “Black-bellied Darter.” Taking full advantage of the Anhinga’s gangly neck and elongated body, he created this graceful image of the pair’s prenuptial behavior. Just before breeding, Anhingas engage in the characteristic behavior of peering around, sitting upright, partially extending their heads and necks, and then looking slowly and repeatedly to the left and right. In his earlier alternative version for plate 316 of The Birds of America (Figure 1), he showed profile views of the male (above) and the female in courtship display in an aesthetically unified composition with their necks in parallel postures to signify their pair bond. Dissatisfied with the lack of features visible in the female of the species in that composition, which he feared that naturalists would criticize, he redrew the pair perching in an unnatural tango that reveals more ornithological data.
Since their feathers are not waterproof, Anhingas must dry them out frequently to keep them from becoming waterlogged, a behavior Audubon captured with the male in the final model. The S-shaped curve of the Anhinga’s neck, resulting from an evolutionary modification in the eighth and ninth vertebrae, and a specialized musculature allow the bird to dart its neck out quickly while swimming underwater to spear fish. The Anhinga submerges its body so that only the small head and snaky neck are visible, and the species has no external nostrils and thus no water enters during a dive. To the engraved plate (Figure 2) Havell added a bayou landscape with four additional birds probably taken from another study by Audubon to illustrate their other typical behaviors in the water and out.