Snowy Egret on the Naples Pier

Birds do not have teeth. Even that one you're thinking of that kind of looks like it has teeth. No, not ducks either. Some birds have somewhat of a serrated bill which helps them to grip prey. Like this Snowy Egret. He deals in slimy, squirmy fishes so he must have some sort of uneven surface on the occlusal surfaces of his bill to keep the fish in check. 20160503-dscn3362

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So how do they chew their food then? They don't. Ever. They have an organ called the ventriculus (gizzard) that acts as a mechanical stomach. Two strong muscles surround and contract the walls of the ventriculus to grind and mash up food.

You might have heard that poultry birds ingest small stones to aid in digestion. True. The stones, softened by the acidic environment that precedes the ventriculus, are eventually ground down to tiny pieces that pass through the rest of the digestive tract. While in the ventriculus, the "grit" as it is sometimes called, helps provide a solid surface to create friction between the food and ventriculus thus grinding it down more efficiently.

Just because birds don't have to chew does not mean that swallowing food is always easy. Check out our Snowy Egret friend trying to manage a piece of fish.

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As if the ventriculus wasn't already cool enough, there is another organ in the avian digestive system that might be as interesting. The crop. It's a tiny pouch toward the posterior end of the esophagus where newly consumed meals and water are stored. As the crop empties and food makes its way toward the ventriculus, the bird's brain receives hunger signals telling it that it's time to eat more food.

At least, I find it cool.

Enjoy these next few photos of our egret filling up on fish.

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Makes me long for some of that halibut I ate the other night here in Newfoundland.

Listen, if you're anywhere near Naples, FL, you have to check out the pier. Especially for sunset but take what you can get. Trust me. And if you're patient, you'll probably see dolphins. Examine the photos below to see if you can find the dolphins I was fortunate enough to see.

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Egrets on St. Pete Beach

Sometimes I think about birds in terms of how I would describe them to a small child. Maybe it's the teacher in me. Or perhaps I'm always trying to simplify birds into a skeletal few bullet points that make them easier to separate. Like Darwin. Or anyone who ever looked outside and subconsciously divided different backyard birds into mental categories to better distinguish them. In any case, I would describe this week's bird as "slender white flamingo with pointy bill and creeping legs."

It's a good thing I don't have to simply describe every bird to you anyway. I can show you. Huzzah internet!

Sit yourself down at the table of warm, early morning beach walk in Florida and have a look at these Snowy Egrets. Snowy? Yes. I think the adjective is more a color reference than a geographical range descriptor.

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Snowy Egrets are year-round residents of a vast amount of earth. Southeastern USA and most of South America. However they also breed in most of the United States; all but the northernmost states.

One would think that egrets might be hard to distinguish, what with being similar tall white birds and all. But a quick look to the legs and feet is usually enough to tell them apart. Does your egret have yellow boots on? Snowy Egret.

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Does your egret wear black hosiery? Great White Egret.

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As the name suggests, Great White Egrets are larger than Snowy Egrets. And really, these guys have such a large range that they form main populations. The Great White Egrets inhabiting the western hemisphere are more often referred to as American Great Egrets.

One can easily guess that egrets eat fish. But they're actually far less picky than that. They are opportunists that also enjoy snakes, lizards, amphibians, insects, tiny mammals, and even other birds. That sharp bill is a savage weapon.

Speaking of savagery, something called "siblicide" is quite common in egrets. Chicks that hatch first often do away with other chicks in their nest that hatch later on and are smaller. A few days of seniority is a huge advantage in avian development.

Starting now I will go back to posting twice per week so come back on Wednesday for more birds!