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Black-crowned Night Heron
Nycticorax nycticorax

Black-crowned Night Heron
[Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]

Description: The Black-crowned Night Heron is 23-28 inches tall and looks hunched over with its head usually tucked down into its shoulders. Adults' plumage is gray, with a white underside, a distinctive black cap and back, and a pair of white plumes that extend from the back of the head. Adults have red eyes and yellow legs and feet.

Life History: This bird is a nocturnal and noisy heron.The Black-crowned Night Heron feeds at night on fish, frogs, crustaceans, small mammals and even the chicks of other colonial-nesting waterbirds. Their digestive acids are so strong that bones that are consumed simply dissolve in their stomachs. Black-crowned night herons usually nest colonially among reeds in marshes, or up to 160 feet above the ground in trees. The female lays three to four bluish-green eggs between February and March and again between June and July.

Habitat: The black-crowned night heron lives in fresh and saltwater marshes, swamps, lakes and wooded streams.

Distribution: This is the most prevalent heron in the world, found on five continents and much of North America. It is common in coastal areas year-round throughout the CSWGCIN region, and during the summer may also be found further inland.

Resources:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

New Hampshire Public Television

United States Geological Survey

  Great Blue Heron
Ardea herodias 

Great Blue Heron, Courtesy of National Park Service
[Photo: National Park Service]

Description: The Great Blue Heron is a large wader with a wingspan of roughly seven feet. Adults have grey plumage, yellow eyes and bill, and long brownish or greenish legs. They typically hold their neck in an S-curve at rest and in flight.

Life History: Great Blue Herons nest in colonies and occasionally as lone pairs. They build their nests of reed grasses, twigs, and sticks in trees or on the ground. The female lays 2-6 pale blue eggs that incubate for four weeks. The young fledge after seven weeks.

Habitat: Found along calm freshwater and seacoasts. Usually nests in trees near water, but colonies can be found away from water. Great White Heron found almost exclusively in shallow marine habitats.

Distribution: These herons are found year-round throughout the CSWGC region. They range as far north as Alaska and Canada and south into Central America and the Caribbean.

Status: The Great Blue Heron suffered less from plume hunters and pesticides than other herons, and its numbers have remained strong.

Resources:

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology

United States Geological Survey

Reddish Egret
Egretta rufescens

Reddish Egret, Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
[Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]

Description: Reddish egrets grow to a height 30 inches with a wingspan reaching over four feet. They exhibit two distinctly different color phases: a dark morph and a white morph. Reddish egrets in the dark morph are gray with a reddish head and neck feathers. In the white morph, these birds will have white feathers. They have bluish legs and a pink bill with a dark tip during both morphs.

Life History: The reddish egret is a wading bird that can live up to 12 years. Reddish egrets reach sexual maturity at three to four years. Their nests are made of sticks either on the ground or in a bush or tree. Both parents build the nest, which will usually contain three to four, smooth, pale blue-green eggs with no markings. Two dark morph birds can have white morph chicks, but two white morph birds can never have dark morph chicks. When a dark morph bird and a white morph bird mate, their chicks are almost always dark morph. The white phase of the reddish egret was once thought to be a completely different species. Small fish, frogs, tadpoles and crustaceans make up most of their diet. When chasing fish, they run in circles. Reddish egrets use their long, spear-like bills to stab their prey. After feeding, reddish egrets regurgitate all the inedible parts of their prey, such as bones, much like owls do. Parents feed their young by regurgitating into the chicks' mouths.

Habitat: Salt and brackish water wetlands.

Distribution: The reddish egret can be found year-round along the Gulf Coast of Texas and some parts of Louisiana and southern Florida. It is rare along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, West Indies, and Baja California.

Status: There are only 1,500 to 2,000 nesting pairs of reddish egrets in the United States - and most of these are in Texas. Intrusion of habitat by recreationists, pesticide runoff, and land development all harm the reddish egret's habitat.

Resources:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

National Audubon Society

New Hampshire Public Television

Roseate Spoonbill
Ajaia ajaja

Roseate Spoonbill, Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife
[Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife]

Description: Roseate Spoonbills are found mostly in Florida and coastal Texas. They have a wingspan of 50 - 53 inches, a length of 30 - 34 inches and weigh about 3.3 pounds. Roseate Spoonbills are a brilliant pink bird with blood-red "drip" on the shoulders. The Roseate Spoonbill has a white neck and back, with an orange tail and eyes that are ruby red or scarlet; the naked head is pale green to golden buff at pairing. They have a straight bill with broad spatulate tip.

Habitat: The Roseate Spoonbill is common in marshes, tidal ponds, sloughs and mangrove swamps along the Gulf Coast. The Roseate Spoonbill may feed in shallow brackish or salt water and occasionally fresh water by swinging their unusual bills in long arcs from side to side. The Roseate Spoonbill feeds alone or in small groups, and is frequently seen in company of other wading birds.

Distribution: The Roseate Spoonbill is found in Coastal Texas, southwest Louisiana, southern Florida; Cuba and Isle of Pines; Hispaniola; Great Inagua in south Bahamas. South locally in coastal Mexico from north Sinaloa through Middle America to Panama, and in Colombia, Venezuela and Guianas, east of the Andes through east Ecuador, east Peru, Bolivia and Brazil to Paraguay, Uruguay and northern Argentina to Cordoba and Buenos Aires; west of Andes in west Ecuador.

Snowy Egret
Egretta thula

Snowy Egret, Courtesy of Gary M. Stolz, USGS
[Photo: Gary M. Stolz, USGS]

Description: One of the seven species of white herons, the Snowy Egret is small and slender with white plumage and contrasting black legs with yellow feet. The Snowy Egret has a black bill and holds its neck in an "S" curve during flight.

Life History: The Snowy Egret breeds once a year. Females lay three to five greenish-blue eggs that hatch in three to four weeks. The young leave the nest in 20 to 25 days. The Snowy Egret's diet consists of fish, crabs, crayfish, aquatic and terrestrial insects, snakes, snails, small frogs and lizards, and aquatic vegetation.

Habitat: Commonly found in wetland areas, both fresh and salt-water marshes and sometimes in ponds and rice fields. As wetlands are destroyed, the Snowy Egret becomes threatened.

Distribution: Snowy Egrets mainly breed along the coasts, from Oregon and Maine southward, but also in scattered inland sites where suitable wetlands are found. Common in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, they can also be found in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Their wintering grounds are located along the Atlantic Coast to southern New Jersey, and down into the Bahamas, Cuba, and the Greater Antilles; as well as from the Gulf and Pacific coasts south into Central America.

Status: The Snowy Egret is classified as a "Species of Special Concern" in Florida and as threatened in Connecticut. In the early 1900s, the Snowy Egret was hunted for its beautiful plumage. The 1918 Migratory Bird Act helped the Snowy Egret regain their population. Today, the Snowy Egret may be threatened by pollution and the loss of wetland environments.

Resources:

National Audubon Society

United States Geological Survey

Tricolored Heron
Egretta tricolor

Tricolored Heron, Photo courtesy of George Jameson
[Photo: George Jameson]

Description: The Tricolored Heron is slender and medium-sized, two feet tall with a three feet wingspan. Plumage is bluish-grey on head, back, and neck and white on their ventral side. The bill is fairly long and yellowish or bluish-grey. They hold their neck in an S-curve at rest and in flight.

Life History: They will run back and forth through shallow water to catch their prey: aquatic invertebrates, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. They lay 3-7 pale blue eggs that hatch after a three week incubation period. Chicks fledge in roughly five weeks.

Habitat: They live and hunt in mudflats, ditches, and freshwater marshes.

Distribution: Tricolored Herons are found along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey and southward to Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America.

Resources:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

United States Geological Survey

White Ibis
Eudocimus albus

White Ibis, Photo courtesy of Peter Wallack
[Photo: Peter Wallack]

Description: The White Ibis is a medium-sized wader with a white body and black-tipped wings. It has an unmistakable long, down-curved, red bill and red legs. The feathers, legs, and bill of the immature White Ibis are light brown or grey, with a white underside.

Life History: These social wading birds breed in colonies and build their nests in woody plants and thickets during May or June, the male bringing most material and the female doing most of the building. Incubation is by both sexes and averages 21 days. Both parents feed the young by regurgitation. The chicks will fledge after six or seven weeks.

Habitat: The White Ibis probes the surface of wetland habitats such as salt, fresh, and brackish wetlands, rice fields, and swamps for crayfish, crabs, and other insects.

Distribution: Breeds along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina southward along the Gulf Coast to Mexico and throughout the Caribbean to South America. Will winter in breeding areas or farther inland.

Resources:

Wakulla County, Florida Tourist Development Council

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

White-faced Ibis
Plegadis chihi

White-faced Ibis, Photo courtesy of George Jameson and USGS
[Photo: George Jameson, USGS]

Description: The white-faced ibis is a dark, chestnut colored-bird with green or purple on its head and upper parts, and a long, down-curved bill. It is very similar in appearance to the glossy ibis except during the breeding season when the white-faced ibis has a narrow border of white feathers all around its bare facial skin at the base of the bill. This ibis has reddish legs and feet and red bare skin on the face around the eyes.

Life History: During the nesting season, they are colonial and will construct a deep cup of dead reeds among beds of bulrushes, on floating mats of dead plants or they may nest in trees. The areas where these nests are built usually are where water is less than three feet deep. The nests are lined with grasses in preparation for the ibis nestlings. In Texas, between April and June, three to four greenish-blue eggs will hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 to 22 days. The male and female both share in the parenting responsibilities of incubation and brooding of the nestlings. Nestlings initially are covered with a dull, blackish down and are noted to be uncommonly timid.

Habitat: The white-faced ibis frequents marshes, swamps, ponds and rivers where it can feed on insects, fish, frogs, and crayfish.

Distribution: Breeds across western United States northward to Montana, eastward to western Louisiana, and southward to South America. They will winter from Southern California to Louisiana and southward.

Status: Numbers are declining as a result of the draining of wetlands and widespread use of pesticides.

Resources:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

United States Geological Survey


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