The anhinga is a strange bird in more ways than one – it swims not on the surface of the water like most other web-footed pond-dwellers, but dives well below the surface and stays submerged for long periods, often surfacing far from where it initially dove. At times, it swims with a periscope-like effect with only its head and neck above the water, looking like some eerie vertical water snake. It does not have waterproofing on its feathers, but instead will stay spreadeagled for long periods to dry its wings. It will spear tremendous fish, and may even eat small alligators. It is one of only four birds in the family Anhingidae.
But for many birders, the strangest, most confusing fact of all is just how is this bird’s name pronounced?
The scientific name is no help at all with learning how to pronounce anhinga, as it is classified in the genus Anhinga with the species name of anhinga. Yes, you read that right – this bird is the anhinga (Anhinga anhinga). A lot of help that is if you might be looking to avoid any pronunciation miscommunications by opting for the scientific name.
The combination of letters in anhinga aren’t too common, and even the most articulate birder might stumble over these three syllables. But if we take them one at a time, we can piece together the proper pronunciation of anhinga.
- An (rhymes with ban, man, pan, scan, fan, and ran)
- Hing (rhymes with thing, bring, sting, wing, fling, and ming)
- Ga (rhymes with duh and the same “uh” as stuff, tut, and cut)
String those syllables together and you have anhinga – but the tricky bit of the pronunciation isn’t quite finished. There is some disparity about whether then H ought to be pronounced, leading to two options:
The first syllable, an, is universal for different accents and intonations. The last syllable, ga, is also universal with a hard “g” sound (same as in great, give, goal, goose, and Google). That middle syllable, however, may or may not use the breathy “h” (hot, have, heart, help, and home) or else a silent “h” that emphasizes the “ing” instead. Both pronunciations are widespread, and both are correct, though the breathy “h” is more common.
Syllabic emphasis (where the most force is pronounced within the word) is almost universal on the second syllable, hing/ing, giving you “an-HING-ga” for the full pronunciation. This, however, does have some variation, and it is also acceptable for each syllable to be stressed relatively equally so there is no one part of the word that stands out.
So why does this pronunciation matter? The bird certainly doesn’t mind whatever it is called, and it even has other names such as the American darter, water turkey, and snakebird. Still, it does help if you aren’t stumbling over the bird’s name, as it’s confusing enough without common mispronunciations, two of which come to mind.
- Using a “j” sound as in ninja, binge, or hinge
- Shortening the “i” to rhyme with in, fin, tin, or bin
Ultimately, this is one bird name that most birders have struggled with at some point or other, and even if you do slightly muddle how you say anhinga, you won’t be alone. So long as you know which bird you mean, and you aren’t confusing it with a cormorant, heron, egret, or vulture, feel free to call it whatever you wish. For me, I tend to have several ways I pronounce this bird’s name, sometimes with or without the breathy “h” and sometimes with a long or short “i” – but I always know I mean the water turkey, and knowing what bird you mean is the only bit of pronunciation that truly matters.
How do you pronounce anhinga? Share your pronunciation preferences in the comments, or let me know what other bird names you want to learn how to pronounce as our series continues!