110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Nature Scenes: Tricolored herons spear fish with their long bills
By Lynn Bowen
posted Jan 6, 2014 - 9:17:53am
So ... what three colors are on the tricolored heron, you may wonder. Blue, white and a little maroon-red is the answer! This 26-inch-tall, beautiful heron is predominantly plumed in slate blue, with a pale, narrow stripe from the base of its bill down to its white belly.
Only the juveniles have russet-red feathers on the neck, which become blue in adulthood. Adults have red eyes.
With its powerful, broad 36-inch wingspan, a tricolored heron can lift its body vertically out of brushy wetland. This 13-ounce, long-legged beauty has a long spearlike bill, which, of course, it uses to spear fish for a meal.
The bill is yellow at non-breeding time, but dark blue with a black tip at mating time. The yellow legs become orangey-pink then, and a few flowing feathers called “nuptial feathers” grow on the back of the head to signal when “looking-for-a-partner time” has arrived. Males and females have identical plumage, but the male is a little larger.
Nesting is mainly in large rookeries, which the herons create in wooded, swampy areas. These wading birds are social at breeding time from March through July, and they nest where hundreds of other nests are. How cooperative and thoughtful they are to each other at this time.
The male chooses the nest site, and both parents build the twig nest. Both incubate the three to seven eggs, and both feed the chicks when they’ve hatched. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park has a wonderful, natural rookery that entices these birds and many others also.
Tricolored herons feed along the edges of swamps, streams and ponds, finding fish, insects and little reptiles. They actually run after their prey after they spot it. The herons’ long toes churn up food, as well as distribute their body weight over soft mud.
These solitary birds have a soft, nasal, rasping sound, which isn’t musical or pretty, but is useful to announce their presence or to warn of danger.
The tricolored heron’s home is along the southern coast of the U.S., plus both coasts of Mexico and Central America, in shallow-water areas. Some live at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in DeLeon Springs. Just to see these beautiful birds is worth the visit!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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