Contributed by Lois Ports for Bristlecone Audubon
Driving over the Humboldt River via the 12th Street bridge you can see the effects of our hot summer. The Humboldt is slowly drying up in some stretches. All that is left in many areas are pools of water not much bigger than a kids wading pool. What few fish and frogs that are left are trying to survive in these areas. Enter the wading birds. They too are trying to survive in this heat and are drawn to the pools in search of prey. These bird have pointed bills and strike with lightning speed.
Great Blue Herons are our largest and heaviest wading bird. They can be up to 54” in length with a wingspan of 72”. They weigh only a little over six pounds. Adult birds are a grayish blue overall with a long yellow to orange bill and have a black crown and black eye stripe. In flight it curls its long neck into a tight ‘s’ shape. Its wings are broad and rounded with its legs stretched out way beyond the tail. They will eat nearly anything within striking distance including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects and other birds.
The Great Egret is the largest of the white egrets. They can be up to 39” in length with a wingspan of 51” and they weigh almost 2 pounds. All feathers on Great Egrets are white. Their bills are yellowish-orange, and the legs and feet are black. Great Egrets wade in shallow water to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They typically stand still and watch for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Then, with startling speed, the egrets strike with a jab of their long neck and bill. In flight it too curls its neck back and has its legs stretched out beyond the tail. During breeding season a patch of skin on its face turns bright green, and long plumes grow from its back. These plumes were prized as adornments for ladies hats in the late nineteenth century. Because of this they were hunted nearly to extinction. The National Audubon Society was originally founded to protect birds such as these from being hunted for their feathers.
The Snowy Egret is also totally white but it has a dark bill and yellow feet. It is smaller and only reaches 24” in length with a wingspan of 36” and weighs less than a pound. Unlike the other two birds it tends to forage with its neck tightly coiled and may be stationary or crouching. They use their feet to stir up or herd small aquatic animals. During breeding season they develop long wispy feathers on their backs, necks and heads. In 1886 these plumes were valued at $32 per ounce, which was twice the price of gold at the time!
To learn more about our area’s birds, plants and other wildlife follow us on Facebook at Bristlecone Audubon or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to receive our digital newsletter. Our next meeting will be on Friday, September 21, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. in room 208 of the DCIT Building at Great Basin College (1050 Chilton Circle, Elko).