Lots of times throughout the day, we see egrets, herons, and other wading birds in and around the vast wetland habitats in and around the Lowcountry. With long legs, thin, S-shaped necks, and stiletto-style bills, these waders can be see stalking the shores of ponds, lagoons, creeks, and other wetlands, searching for small fish, frogs, snakes, and invertebrates like crabs, crayfish, shrimp, etc.
Initially, it may be easy to dismiss these graceful birds because of what appears to be insignificant colors in shades of white, gray, bluish, and other colors that just don’t jump out at you or that we take for granted, because many of us see these birds everyday. However, upon closer inspection, you may be surprised to find out, that during breeding season, these birds have a lot more color than just their feathers.
Wading birds experience drastic color changes in the skin around their eyes, beaks, and feet with the onset of breeding season. Great egrets and snowy egrets normally have yellow skin around their eyes and little blue herons’ lores (area around the eyes) are gray. During breeding season, great egrets’ lores turn bright, chartreuse green, accompanied by an eye color change from yellow to red. Snowy egrets also shows a color change, where they lores turn orangish to blood red. Both egrets also show the addition of nuptial plumes or breeding plumes that are more pronounced during the season of “he-ing and she-ing”.
For smaller birds, the little blue heron and tri-colored heron (formerly the Louisiana Heron) steal the show, with my favorite being the tricolored. The little blue has grayish blue plumage with subtle plumes, but the lores on this bird turns from gray to a brilliant sky blue and so does half of its beak. This change is spectacular, but actually more pronounced in the tricolored. It’s skin around the eyes goes from yellow to bright blue, with the blue making its way halfway down the beak like the little blue heron. It’s the tricolored heron’s plumage that makes the difference to me. Maroonish feathers on the back, gray-blue feathers overall, and a bright white belly make stark transitions, topped off by a small but striking white plume feather on the head. Absolutely beautiful!
As an added visual bonus, many wading birds develop plumes during breeding. Delicate, wispy feathers on the head, chest, and back make these birds very showy and elegant during the breeding season. Combine this with the colors of the lores and it’s easy to see why these birds are some of the most photographed birds in the Lowcountry!
Nature Notes by Marvin Bouknight