A Heron By Any Other Name Would Be Easier To Identify

Dateline:  November 7, 2014

Who’s out there on the island?
Who’s out there on the island?

This is a fun time of year in Florida.  The birds are returning from their summer digs so I get a wide array of visitors.  I glanced out at the pond the other day and eyed a thin white head poking up through the cover of native grasses.  There standing on the tussock in the pond was a bright white bird in the heron family.

Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are regular visitors
Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are regular visitors

Since the pond is jumping with fish, I get quite a variety of wading birds visiting the pond for a snack…and in all color varieties.  Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are a favorite of mine.  They aren’t as wary as some other species of herons who stop by, such as this guy.

Smaller than this Great White Egret (Ardea alba)
Smaller than this Great White Egret (Ardea alba)

In observing the bright white color characteristic, it seemed too small to be one of the Great Egrets (Ardea alba) that are routine visitors.  I figured it was one of the Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) that are common around here, although more often than not you see them in fields, standing as sentries next to livestock, grabbing easy insect meals that the cows stir up with a defensive slap of their tails.

I did a double take since it seemed a bit too large to be that species, and was missing the telltale orange markings on the head, although that coloring is more apparent in springtime…more a “breeding colors” characteristic.

Lacking the orange coloring of this Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Lacking the orange coloring of this Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

My guest seemed skittish, so I sneaked down closer to the pond hiding behind some wax myrtle shrubs to get an vantage point to zoom in with the camera lens for a closer look.

The bird lazily drifted with a slight swish of its wings to the far side of the pond bank evacuating the small island.

I watched and waited a bit longer, but after snagging a quick meal of a mosquito fish or frog, the bird took flight and left me.

the beak and the legs of my latest guest show colors I’m not familiar with
the beak and the legs of my latest guest show colors I’m not familiar with

I cropped the photos and was a bit perplexed by the coloring of the legs.  Egrets have black legs and this bird had a hint of a minty-green leg coloring.

I knew from experience that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, so I first investigated whether it might be a young Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) which are routine visitors to my place.

Maybe an immature Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) such as this one? Nahh
Maybe an immature Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) such as this one? Nahh

However, there was something unique about the look of the eye that made me realize that this was not a species that had visited me before.  I thought maybe a snowy egret, but it lacked the showy plumes and again, didn’t have black legs.

Ahhh, a new-to-me species in my garden, it is a Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), despite the fact that it is white during the first year
Ahhh, a new-to-me species in my garden, it is a Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), despite the fact that it is white during the first year

Meet a juvenile Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea).  As with the youngsters of many different types of fauna, often the coloring of the adults are in stark contrast to youthful appearances.  The common names do little to help in identification attempts.  In this particular species, as it matures, the birds take on the purple-blue hues that gives them the common name.

With their patchy white-and-blue appearance, Little Blue Herons in transition from the white first-year stage to blue adult plumage are often referred to as “Calico,” “Pied,” or “Piebald.”

The diet of this beauty consists primarily of small fish, supplemented by crustaceans and various arthropods, including dragonflies and grasshoppers.

I’m hoping that my friend will come back to visit over the course of the winter so I can see the change in coloring. I’d like to add a Little Blue Heron to my home observation list that is ACTUALLY blue.

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on November 7, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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