October 2011 Bird Photo of the Month

Learning to Fly © Lisa Willnow
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

What character this little guy exhibits balancing precariously on this palm frond, extending and flapping his wings to balance! Well, it could be a little gal, as both have identical plumage in all heron species. This is a Little Blue Heron but for the first year this species is all white. Juveniles are distinguished from other white herons by their bicolored (with black tip) bill and greenish legs. During their first molt, some blue feathers begin to appear on their wings and back. In perfect bilateral symmetry, all white feathers are gradually replaced with the blue ones of the adult bird. This fledgling has lost its down, but the primaries (flight feathers) have not fully erupted and are pink-shafted with nourishing blood. The base of the bill is colorless and will soon turn blue with a very black tip.

The white juveniles, more readily accepted amongst Snowy Egrets than Little Blue Heron adults, may increase their foraging success and be protected from predators by associating in mixed flocks. Through research, ornithologists determined that white is advantageous by being less visible against a bright sky. White feathers also reflect the sun better than dark ones, beneficial during their initial hot summer.
Lisa Willnow took this photograph of one with a Sony DSC-H5 f/8, 1/500 sec, ISO 400, 15mm lens. At 21 days after hatching, the young are able to grasp branches and negotiate a move off the nest, remaining within calling distance for the parents bringing food. One more week and they are still begging for food, but can flap wings and take short glides. By 35 days they are capable of sustained flight but readily circle back to the nest area. Another week and they are making daily trips foraging in nearby wetlands. Not long to learn how to fly!

Juanita Baker
Coordinator of the Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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