Little Blue Heron

 Little Blue Heron

by Cary Salter

 

TGO Nature Center, TGO, Education, Birds, Little Blue Heron, Titusville, Florida, TGO, The Great Outdoors

 

Standing statuesquely in shallow water or on water-side vegetation, neck fully stretched at a near 45 degree angle to the body, slowly stalking only to STRIKE like a flash to grab a small fish, amphibian or aquatic invertebrate: these are telltale feeding behaviors of the little blue heron (Egretta caerulea).

Of the four birds sharing the basic moody blues and purplish reds of the little blue, one, the great blue heron, is too large to even cause confusion.  But the other three can give one pause when identifying bluish-reddish wading birds. Little blue herons stand about two feet tall with a wing span near 40 inches.

A first glance should be towards the tops of the bird’s legs and its belly area. If it’s white, that would be the tricolor heron, formerly known as the Louisiana heron.

(Why are they always changing names of birds, combining species and dividing others into two species? Don’t quote this author, but he believes they just want to sell updated guide books!)

Of the remaining two waders, with overall blues and reds, there is an average five inch difference in size (from tip of tail to tip of beak or bill).  That’s hard to distinguish if only one of the two species is visible.  The larger is the reddish egret.  Always pay attention to beaks , feet and legs.  They will confirm a reddish egret if dark legs and two-toned, pink and black beak, or the little blue heron, if light almost greenish legs and two-toned blue and black beak.

(When is it a ‘beak’, and when is it a ‘bill’?  Why it’s a bill if it must be paid!  Seriously, the two terms seem interchangeable.)

According to “The Birder’s Handbook—A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds,” little blue herons can be found in marshes, lakes, ponds, meadows, streams and mangroves.  (Many of the accompanying photos were taken from a golf cart on TGO nature trail.)

These herons are primarily monogamous, but nearby males will sometimes ‘intrude’ on a female left unguarded in the nest which is usually built in trees standing in water or on islands alongside other colonial nesting waterbirds. The male selects a nesting area before beginning courtship.  He brings sticks and twigs which the female weaves into the nest.

During the time the female is laying three to five eggs, the male does not feed, and seldom leaves the nest for more than five minutes.  Both males and females incubate the all-white eggs for 20 to 23 days.

Once hatched the young have some feathers and open eyes, but are not capable of self-support (they’re semialtricial).  They remain on the nest for 42 to 49 days before fledging, being fed by both parents’ regurgitation.

At this point, they most interestingly have only white feathers, along with the light greenish legs and two-toned blue and black beak. They can be confused with the similar-sized all white snowy and cattle egrets, if not for the telltale beaks and feet and slow stalking feeding behavior. Near the end of their first year they begin to slowly molt into adult purplish reds and blues a few feathers at a time. They seem polka-dotted and quite humorously colored for a while. They are the only heron or egret to undergo a complete color change when achieving adulthood.

The slow steady stalking hunting behavior is almost always a sure-fire way to identify this bird commonly found around The Great Outdoors, and Brevard County.

(Click on any photo to enlarge.)

 

TGO Nature Center, TGO, Education, Birds, Little Blue Heron, Titusville, Florida, TGO, The Great Outdoors

 

A little blue heron enjoying a sunny day.

 

TGO Nature Center, TGO, Education, Birds, Little Blue Heron, Titusville, Florida, TGO, The Great Outdoors

 

The little blue heron in the photo above is on the hunt for a meal.

 

TGO Nature Center, TGO, Education, Birds, Little Blue Heron, Titusville, Florida, TGO, The Great Outdoors

 

A little blue heron in flight.

 

TGO Nature Center, TGO, Education, Birds, Little Blue Heron, Titusville, Florida, TGO, The Great Outdoors

 

The photo of the white bird above is actually a first year little blue heron. Though it is hard to see in the photo, to help identify it as a little blue heron look for greenish colored feet and legs and two-toned blue and black beak.

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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