110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Nature Scenes: Green heron is a ‘tool-using species’
By Lynn Bowen
posted Jul 14, 2014 - 9:47:38am
A juvenile green heron silently walked on the ground a few yards from alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm during my recent visit there. This lone bird didn’t have any green feathers yet and looked about 8 inches tall. His plumage was brown, with streaks and spots. None of his relatives were in sight, but he seemed confident, walking around in plain view. He was probably practicing for his life of solitude.
At this bird rookery, breeding great egrets, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets and wood storks were building nests and laying eggs in trees, while hungry alligators lurked in the dark water below. The alligators are in captivity, but none of the birds are. The birds all seem to feel safe here, since they know the alligators will not let any raccoons, snakes or other predators bother them. I wonder if they realize that if an egg falls from a nest, an alligator will have a little snack.
An adult green heron is 18 inches tall, has a 26-inch wingspan, and weighs only 7 ounces. It has a greenish-black “cap,” a green back, gray wings, a chestnut neck, and a white line down the front of its body. Its underside is pale with brown streaks. It has a long, dark, daggerlike bill and yellow legs.
The males’ legs turn orange at breeding time, which is from March to June. The females are smaller than the males and less colorful.
This bird has a rather long neck, but pulls it in when he is crouching and foraging for food. Then with a darting stroke of the head and neck, he catches his prey. Fish are the main part of his diet, but this heron also eats frogs, insects and mice. These birds sometimes drop food on the water’s surface to attract fish, making them among the few birds known as a “tool-using species.” This is interpreted as intelligence rather than merely instinct. At any rate, it’s quite ingenious for this heron to stand on the shore or in shallow water and wait for the prey to come to him.
The secretive green heron lives mainly in North and Central America in wetlands. He can live up to eight years. This little fisherman is not only attractive, but talented and crafty!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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