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!

2birdfeature #5

In this second to last installment of the 2birdfeature posts, we return to Protection Island to have a look at a couple of birds I saw on a daily basis while living as a castaway. The first one is one of my favourite hummingbirds. It's one that I grew up watching in Colorado. This guy (or gal, in this case) is very aggressive and does not play well with others. If you have hummingbird feeders, this is the guy that chases all the other hummers away. The Rufous Hummingbird.

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The male Rufous is much more recognizable as he is bronze all over with almost no green at all. And contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds like these don't only eat nectar. They eat tiny flies and spiders as well. Arguably the most impressive thing about hummingbirds is not their heart rate, not their rate of wing beats, but their migration path. Rufous Hummingbirds fly all the way to Mexico to winter and to get there, they take one of two paths around the Great Basin Desert. This migration, like that of many other hummers, is a pretty rugged undertaking.

The second bird for today will be the Harlequin Duck.

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To see this bird out of water, especially the male, is to witness a live painting. In a way, this duck's markings remind me of the detail and care in the plumage of the Wood Duck. These ducks are found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and are a common oceanic water bird.

Join me this weekend for a look at the Dawley Refuge in Sequim Bay, WA. There will be banana slugs the size of your face!