Featured Bird: Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea).
Description: Wading bird. Long legs, neck and bill for stalking food in shallow water. Slate blue overall. About 60 cm (24 in.) long, 102 cm (40 in.) wingspan, weighs 325 g.
Range: breeds from the Gulf states of the USA through Central America and the Caribbean south to Peru and Uruguay. Resident breeder in most of its range, some northern breeders migrate to the southeastern USA or beyond in winter.
Status: due to its large range and large population numbers, this species is not considered endagered and is listed by Red List in the “least concern” category.
A Little Blue Heron spent several days feeding in a quickly evaporating small pond near the house. As I approached it on different days it became progressively more tolerant to my presence, which enabled me to get really close and make plenty of photos as it continued to feed. This is a bird that prefers to be solitary, although it nests and roosts in mixed colonies with other heron species. It feeds constantly on a diet of amphibians, small fish and crustaceans, walking with calculated steps or standing very still, eyes fixed on the water until it spots its prey and lunges forward to catch it quickly with its bill.
Little Blue Heron juveniles do little justice to their name by displaying all-white plumage, which makes them hard to distinguish from the inmature Snowy Egret (Egretta thula). In order to make the distinction, the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America advises: “note Little Blue Heron’s dull yellow legs and feet; two-toned bill with thicker, gray base and dark tip; mostly grayish lores; and, often, narrow, dusky, primary tips.” The photo below shows a juvenile, in this case without the often dusky primary tips.
Fine tuning that I.D., the National Geographic guide also points out: “During first spring, juvenile’s white plumage begins gradual molt to adult plumage”. The photo below shows a bird in that stage of development (note darker areas on otherwise white plumage).
After reading the bird’s description in both the Nat Geo Field Guide and The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, I was quick to assume that the photo below showed an adult Little Blue Heron in the midst of a large group of juveniles. Closer examination and further reading soon proved me wrong, as the Egretta caerulea in the picture is actually flying amongst a group of adult breeding Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), which can be identified by “orange-buff plumes on crown, back, and foreneck” as well as “red-orange bill” (again according to the Nat Geo Field Guide).
The picture below shows our featured bird flying with its own kind. In spite of the distance and relatively small size of the birds in this image, identification was made easy by the small “bird in flight” illustrations featured in the Sibley guide.
As a fitting farewell (for now) to the Little Blue Heron, I shall close this post with a “bird in flight” image, one of the first successful images I made of this species.
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Fifth Edition), edited by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, by David Allen Sibley
Aves Comunes de la Península de Yucatán, by Eduardo Llamosa Neumann with illustrations by Gladys M. Rodríguez
RED LIST – The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species