November 2013 Bird Photo of the Month

Tricolored Heron in Display © Susan King
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

What is this Tricolored Heron doing? Perhaps, purposefully engaging in the Greeting Ceremony they use when exchanging places to care for their nestlings. The arriving bird with feathers fully erect passes a twig to their mate, points its head upwards, then down towards the nest…what might it be communicating?

“Honey, I’m home!” “Hi, remember me?” “My turn!” or “How’re the youngins?”

The male Tricolored Heron is larger than the female and has a darker magenta iris during courtship. Seeing a single heron without comparing them, the sexes are indistinguishable. Using a Canon T2i; 55-250 mm zoom, Manual, 1/500sec, f13, ISO 200, Susan King photographed this bird in early April in full breeding plumage as indicated by the bright blue bill and lores (skin from bill to eye), white head feathers, and red legs. Outside of the February-May mating season, they normally have yellow bills, lores and legs, but the characteristic white belly remains.

Though this bird is so handsome fluffing its beautiful deep purple feathers with white erect headdress in full breeding display, the species apparently was not as commercially attractive as other egrets to the plume trade in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Nonetheless, its numbers were also decimated because it was easily killed while communally nesting with the valued Great and Snowy egrets. Fortunately all egrets have recovered with our protection, but now they face new threats. Herons go wherever they can find food…along the shoreline of salt marshes, coastal mudflats, mangrove swamps, and wade up to their belly feathers in freshwater cypress swamps, canals, ditches, freshwater marshes, and lake edges with thick aquatic vegetation. The Tricolored Heron depends upon thriving freshwater and coastal habitats for its diet of small fishes.  However, these habitats threatened by pollution, dying sea grasses, and habitat destruction; all caused by human enterprises.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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