Ibises and Egrets - Native Birds of Florida
Nature calls me to the lanai each morning and each evening as there is a constant parade of native Florida birds, butterflies, insects and reptiles constantly piqueing my curiosity and interest as they march by. I have never been a birdwatcher until I have come to Florida. I don't have to whip out my binoculars because the beautiful white ibises and egrets, two types of native Floridian birds, bravely walk right up to the yard and down the golf course fairway hunting for food, and, I sometimes think, flaunting and fauning and wanting human attention to look at their lovely, white, thin bodies. They are so cute and a joy to watch. So, now I'm learning about the native birds of Florida.
American White Ibises are long-legged wading birds that like to inhabit swampy, marshy areas, and the beach front close to the water of the Gulf of Mexico. They belong to the family threskomithidae. They have long, down-curved orange bills. They usually hang together as a group. You rarely see one alone, and they are digging with their long beaks for mostly crustaceans and frogs. Most nest in trees with spoonbills and herons. They also live in Africa and Australia and they come in different colors and kinds: black, black and white, glossy, bald, and the most unusual and rare, the scarlet ibis, is also native to Florida.
The American white ibis is the mascot of the University of Miami here in Florida because of the legendary bravery they display during hurricanes. They are the last of the wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane strikes and the first to come out after the hurricane has passed. Ibises are strong, hearty, brave birds and they know it. They are a bird with an "attitude" and a cocky type of personality and really do love to be watched by us humans.
The rare scarlet ibis has been used as a symbol in the short story by the same name by American James Hurst. He published "The Scarlet Ibis," in Atlantic Monthly magazine in l960. I remember teaching this short story to ninth graders in literature class when I did my student teaching. I was so young and naive in those days, I didn't even know what an ibis was and had to research it in the encyclopedia so I could properly teach the story.
Hurst was from the south and was very familiar with scarlet ibises and how rare they are. So he used the Florida scarlet ibis and its untimely death in the story to symbolize and foreshadow one of the main character's, Doodle, and his death. It is a tragic story and one I highly recommend that you read sometime. It was a short story actually written for an adult audience, but it was such an excellent example of the use of symbolism in a short story, that we taught it to our ninth grade enriched literature classes. The two main characters are about middle school age, so our students were able to relate to the two boys in the story. The scarlet ibis, being the symbol, is integral to the story and to the tragedy. Because of teaching this story, I have always been curious about ibises.
Egrets are a type of Floridian heron bird and most are white or a cream color. They are as large or larger than the ibises and develope fine feather plumes during breading season. They are from the family Egretta or Ardea. The actual world egret comes from the French word, "aigrette" which means "silver heron" and "brush" because of the long feathers that cascade down an egret's back during breeding season. Buy in Florida, egrets are white. They became an endangered species for a while because their feathers were once used in hat making in Europe and the U.S. It is no longer permitted to hunt and kill egrets.Today, they are quite abundant and are also seen all over Florida
Elegant and long necked, the egrets are, I think, only second to swans in beauty. They have orange or yellow straight bills or beaks and yellow or orange feet. Their beaks are shorter than the ibises beaks. It is hard to believe their long, thin legs hold up their white feathered bodies. They also live in swampy, marshy places and along the Gulf shore. They are at the beach about as much as we are. They also hunt for crustaceans to eat. They love to perch on rocks and wood pilings at the beach and many times stand on one thin leg and tuck the other one up under their white body. Then they will stand motionless for about a half hour at a time just staring at human beings, or staring out to the horizon in the Gulf. Sometimes they fold their neck down into their body and then they look hilarious because it looks like a head stuck on a body with no neck. They can stand motionless like this for a while and it is easy to take photographs of them. They have long and large wing spans and are beautiful in flight.
I am enjoying my lessons in nature here in Florida. I have never been so aware of my surroundings and the beauty here is amazing. Living in a state where it is summer weather all year round certainly has its advantages and the parade of nature never ends.
One still egret, standing silent as a statue cemented to the ground in the still air.
Looks right, looks left,
Pokes and pecks the ground.
Extends one long, lovely leg, then the other.
Folds one long, lovely leg beneath its body,
Stands silent, one-legged in the shade of the bush looking straight ahead.
Not a feather ruffles.
Gazing straight ahead, knowing where it is going.
The leg drops and it prances forward.
Neck long and elegant in a curve.
A slight breeze carries the palm leaves to one side.
The bush sways and the egret soars.
Willowy, white wings extend across the blue sky.
A white beacon to those left behind.