The Herons: The Green, the Blue and the White
What Are Herons?
Boomer Lake is now overrun by the heron clan. The darker birds are generally referred to as herons, whereas the lighter(or white) ones are called egrets. This family of birds has four long toes, and a number of the species has bare facial skin that is sometimes brightly colored. In others, the head lacks feathers altogether. These birds have long necks and legs in proportion to their bodies. Many of the long-legged wading birds have long wings and are great fliers. Some of them are particularly adept at soaring. Although many of these birds are associated with water, none of them is pelagic(birds that spend most of their time at sea and are rarely seen ashore). Sadly, humans pose an extinction threat for a number of species due to both persecution and the loss of habitat. Some of the herons, however, have made great strides in comebacks after receiving protection last century.
Cloudy and overcast, as well as threatening rain, the fish tend to be very close to the top of the water feeding on bugs. A number of them were jumping out of the water. So what better time to visit with the herons and see what they were doing for breakfast?
Luckily, the first family member that I encountered was the Green Heron. My attempt at observing him fish was thwarted a few days ago by a city worker, who was trying to clean up the shore around the lake. Fortunately, the city of Stillwater cares a great deal about appearances, as well as the safety of birds and animals. Today, Green Heron was actually walking toward me, where I set myself up, so I managed to get some wonderful photos of him in action, even though it was cloudy. Not only did he get several small fish, he managed to capture a crustacean, too. Go, Green Heron!
I was surprised by the length of the neck on this bird once I saw him in action. The neck appeared to stretch about 14 inches from his body, which gave him more length for his size than the Great Blue Heron or the Great Egret.
Great Blue Heron?
Then came Great Blue Heron. This one was just south of Veterans’ Memorial, and also made a good showing for himself, as per usual. He also managed to get several fish, and made the nearby Mallards very aware that he was not happy with their presence, but let’s face it, they need to be somewhere, too. He also gave me a number of unusual poses, and to be honest, I think this one enjoys being in the spotlight.
Little Blue Heron?
This adult was alone and is often confused with the uncommon coastal Reddish Egret. The biggest clue is that the Reddish Egret will not come inland. Little Blue Heron is only two feet tall, without the feathered boa neck and back, yet will have a deep maroon-brown neck. These birds also have a pale blue bill with a dark tip, and dull olive colored legs. The bill will show a pinkish hue at the base during breeding condition.
It appears that the Great Egret wasn’t interested in getting anything to eat at this time. He was too busy bullying the ducks and making them move from the perching spots that they had previously chosen. He took almost all of them over. Perhaps he had eaten something substantial before I arrived this morning, and was just biding his time.
Oh, wait a minute…here we go! Good for you, Great Egret. I was beginning to think that you weren’t going to strut your stuff today and show us that you had it in you. Chalk up a small fish for the egret, and I guess we’ll see you again next time.
This is the bird that is a star. Its moves are deliberate, though quick, and it can strike like lightening when hungry. It moves quickly, as its nature is to stir up food on the bottom where it is feeding. This is a medium-sized heron with a black bill and "yellow shoes." This is a relatively common water bird that can be seen quite far north in the continental US.
This little beauty in breeding plumage is truly a show stopper. It boasts a crown, chest, and a full back of reddish plumes has been seen. This is the smallest egret that I know in this area. It is very rare that it calls, but if located in or near a breeding colony, it grunts in communication. This bird has been seen in groups of three or four, but generally is seen alone. It will be seen in numbers around cattle, picking up the insects that they stir up from the ground. Many other times, besides farms, they can be seen on roadsides, but they are always on the move.
© 2012 Deb Hirt