The Beautiful Little Blue Heron
Don't Be Fooled By First Appearances
The Little Blue Heron is a smaller-sized heron, the adult always dark blue-gray in color. The immatures are white, and bear a strong resemblance to the Snowy Egret. The greatest differentiating characteristics for the little blue immatures is the fact that it forages with its neck extended forward, has both green legs and feet, and a thicker bill with a pale base. This bird also has a rounder head.
This retiring beauty has neither showy plumage nor aigrettes, but it is a gorgeous bird in its own right. During breeding season, the bicolored bill turns bright blue, the head and neck receive a dark purple cast, and a few dark head plumes develop. Most of them nest in coastal colonies, but larger groups are colonial in fresh water habitats with Great and Snowy Egret and the ubiquitous Great Blue Heron. Inland nesters prefer the privacy of willow thickets or cottonwoods, snags or otherwise.
Like most herons, they croak or squawk when surprised or disturbed. They have a trumpeting or squealing quality, so it is possible to learn their calls outright.
A second year bird begins a transition, where their feathers show blotchy blue coloration, so they are referred to as “pied” or calico. They can breed before molting into their final slate-blue adult plumage. Their coloring is very unique for herons.
The little blue exhibits individual feeding specialization, which can be early morning or evening feedings, and they are usually found alone, sometimes in small groups. Some herons prefer fish, others favor small frogs, and others might lean toward mollusks or insects, so they learn to catch them successfully, and the aforementioned can become their primary food source. This depends upon what might be available where they are born or are breeding.
Courtship and Nesting
The male will use courtship displays like stretching from a vantage point. He will also bow and extend the feathers on his neck, then will move toward the chosen female. They will mandible snap in unison and proceed to mutual neck rubbing and/or preening. Copulation will ensue, and then the creation of the nest begins. He will present her with nesting material(twigs). They spread their wings for each other and might copulate numerous times.
Nests are in dense growth in the heronry, anywhere from three to ten feet high, containing four or five blue-green eggs. Incubation is about three weeks, shared by both birds. Hatching is staggered, and one parent will always remain in the nest while the other seeks food for the young, who are covered in white down. While very young they require protection from sun, rain, and extreme heat, as well as predators.
These herons nest under the tree canopy, about mid-range. Due to the guano(waste material), they have been known to kill trees under their nest sites.
Nestling Little Blue Herons
Feeding is by parental regurgitation, and the young seize the parents’ bills in a violent manner. Young birds have black-tipped primaries, which are rarely observed.
Nesting success is variable, due to nesting mortality, as well as egg loss from nest collapse, predation, and starvation.
Migration and Other Facts
Fortunately, Little Blue Heron did not suffer keenly from the horror of the plume trade. Since rookeries during this brutal feather retrieval were disturbed, most likely with this bird being present, disturbance was likely felt to some degree. What might have saved this bird, was the fact that its pied appearance as a young bird isn't that attractive, and it doesn't have beautiful aigrettes(long plumes), like the Snowy or Great Egrets during breeding season.
These are a migratory species, heading to Florida, South and Central America, and the West Indies. Eastern breeders usually head for Florida, and the western birds have an interest in the Gulf coastal vicinity. There should be overlap to some degree between the Yucatan and Cuba.
The longest lived bird was almost fourteen years of age and banded in Maryland.
The slow moving and deliberately intent bird weighs less than a pound, about the same size as a Snowy Egret.