Wading Birds

The 4-foot tall gray long-necked birds standing motionless, staring down into the water, are Great Blue Herons, the largest and most widespread heron in North America. Their flight appears slow with steady purposeful flaps. Famed 19th century naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau was impressed by the flight of Great Blue Herons, writing, "It was a grand sight to see them rise, so slow and stately, so long and limber, with an undulating motion from the head to the foot, undulating also their large wings, undulating in two directions, and looking warily about them." Maybe you'll see the grand sight of herons rising from the marsh and slowly winging their way across the sky. Herons feed mostly on fish, but sometimes can be seen hunting rodents in dry fields and croplands. Sometimes people mistakenly call great blue herons "cranes." Sandhill Cranes are also tall and gray, but they have a reddish-cap and fly with their necks stretched out straight whereas herons fly with their necks tucked back in an S-shape. Flocks of Sandhill Cranes occur during winter in croplands. Migrating cranes usually are heard before they are seen. Their wild primeval call from their long coiled trachea adds harmony to the notes and allows them to call louder. The white versions of Great Blue Herons are Great Egrets. Great Egrets have yellow bills and dark legs. Look too for the smaller Snowy Egrets with their thin black bill and yellow feet, sometimes referred as "golden slippers." In the early 20th century egrets were slaughtered almost to extinction for their plumes used in women's hats. Their price of $32/ounce was greater than the price of gold at the time. Another bird that was almost hunted to extinction for its plumes is the exotic Roseate Spoonbill. Fortunately for this species its stunning pink feathers faded quickly so they lost favor with plume hunters. It is startling to see a pink bird in the wild. And close up looks at this colorful bird with the flattened bill always bring a smile to observers. You may see flocks of spoonbills swinging their strange paddle- shaped bill back and forth feeding on creatures on the bottom of the marsh. You might see other odd-looking wading birds with a long downward curved bill. These are Ibis. Ibis fly purposefully in fast moving flocks - flapping, then gliding, then flapping again. White birds with black wing patches are the White Ibis. Most of the dark ibis are White-faced  Ibis though the less common Glossy Ibis is occasionally seen as well. When viewed up close and in good light, you will see these dark ibis  are a striking iridescent maroon and green.You undoubtedly will notice smaller waders in the shallow waters along the highway. The tall thin and somewhat dapper black and white birds, featuring long hot pink legs, are Black-necked Stilts. Both the male and female incubate the clutch of 3 to 5 eggs. And, their chicks have been seen swimming just two hours after hatching! If you see other larger black and white waders with an upturned bill and bluish legs you are looking at American Avocets. They too feed by sweeping their long strange bills back and forth to capture aquatic insects.