Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest of the heron family. They are approximately 38 inches in length, with a 70 inch wingspan. The male and females are similar, with white faces and crowns, and blue-gray and black plumage covering the rest of their bodies. These birds also have long legs and necks that enable them to walk into the water to fish for food. The Blue Heron can be found across North America, the Caribbean, Central America and most of Canada. They are not generally migratory birds, but some do migrate to South and Central America during the winter months. Great Blue Herons are located near watery areas such as lakes, swamps, marshes, rivers or any area that has a water source. Although some can be seen along the coastal areas, the Blue Heron prefers living inland.

March to May are the general months to spot the population of the Great Blue Herons that are located in the northern areas, and they breed in the southern hemisphere from November to April. Nests are made high up in trees that are on the edge of the body of water. The female Great Blue Heron can lay between two to seven eggs, that are light blue in color. The females that are in the northern regions are known to lay more eggs. Male and female Blue Herons both assist in the incubation of the eggs that varies between 26 to 30 days. The chicks fledge the nest after two months, as they are completely independent and will become sexually mature at approximately twenty-two months. Even though the chicks are ready to live and survive on their own, they are most vulnerable during the first year, with more than half not surviving the first year. Great Blue Herons have a life span of about fifteen years, although it has been recorded that the oldest wild heron lived to the age of twenty-three.

The best times to spot the Great Blue Heron is in the early mornings and just before sunset. These are the best fishing times. Even though the herons will sleep and live in great flocks, they prefer to hunt alone and are very aggressive in regard to their nests. They feed on aquatic insects and fish and their spear-like bills assist them in catching fish, and other food sources such as lizards, snakes, frogs, crabs, dragonflies and grasshoppers. Food is swallowed whole and it has happened that herons have choked to death because of their catch being too big to swallow. The Great Blue Heron assists in controlling the insect and fish populations and fish farmers used to see them as a threat. However, it has been shown through research, that the herons eat the sickly and near-dead fish that are located close to the surface.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a wading bird that can be seen near water across North America and breeds throughout the eastern United Sates, Western Texas and New Mexico. It is 14 inches in length, with short yellow legs and a wingspan of 25 inches. This wading bird has a black head that runs into a blue-gray back and wings. The neck is chestnut in color with a white chin, and a white stripe that can be seen on its neck. Females are a little smaller in size with duller and lighter coloring. The Green Heron is almost invisible as it stands completely still, waiting for a fish to be lured into striking distance.

The Green Heron lurks near the edge of the water and feeds on fish most of the time. It is not unusual, however, for them to include spiders, leeches, reptiles, insects, mollusks and crustaceans in their diet. What makes the Green Heron unique is his tool-using fishing method. The heron will use bait to lure the fish close enough for him to strike. Bait such as twigs, insects, feathers and earthworms are dropped into the water, where the Green Heron waits patiently and motionless for his catch. Due to its diet, the heron will often wander to different locations, but will always choose a freshwater site or water marshes. They usually do not travel vast distances, but on occasion, they have been found in France and England.

During the breeding season the male heron will first find an adequate nesting location before finding a partner. This nesting location will be fiercely protected, as the nesting location and a visual display forms part of the male’s bait to lure a mate. He will only mate with one female in a breeding season. Both the male and female heron will contribute in the building of the nest, with the male finding the material and the female taking care of the construction. She will then lay between three to six eggs, after which both birds will assist in the three weeks incubation period. At two weeks, the chicks are able to snap up insects and fledge the nest at three weeks old.

Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) and its other Albatross counterparts are facing extinction. Scientists have recorded that close to a 100,000 birds a year are being killed by tuna and swordfish fishing vessels. If serious action is not taken urgently, this mighty seafarer might not be seen in the near future. The Wandering Albatross is one of the largest albatrosses, with a length of 1.35 meters and a spectacular wingspan of 3.5 meters. They are oceanic birds, and are known to remain at sea for years at a time, only returning to land for breeding. Wandering Albatrosses are a familiar sight in the Antarctic, Southern Oceans, in the subtropical waters and in the sub-Antarctic waters, and are the globetrotters of the sea bird species. A bird that was tagged by scientists was recorded to have covered a distance of 6,000 kilometers, in a mere twelve days.

They are predominantly white over their heads, necks, throats, breasts, bellies, and under their wings. The upper parts of their wings are black at the tips, and turning lighter and receding as they age. Younger birds that are still undergoing the stages to adult plumage are often confused with similar looking albatrosses. Their bills are generally a yellow to pink color, but it can vary. The albatross will glide over the surface of the water to feed, and collects fish, squid and other aquatic foods from the water. These magnificent birds are known to follow fishing trawlers to collect scraps that are thrown overboard, and  this is often the reason why they get caught up in the nets.

Breeding season is in November for the Wandering Albatrosses, and only takes place every second year. They mate for life, and will migrate to sub-Antarctic islands to nest. Nests are constructed on ridges close to the ocean, and are built from mud, sticks and other pieces of vegetation. The female will only lay one egg and the incubation period is approximately eight weeks. After hatching, the chicks will remain in the nest for a period of nine months, while it develops. While the chicks are still very young, parents will alternate to search for food, to ensure that one parent is at the nest at all times. As the chick ages, both parents will start hunting for food, returning to feed their chick. The chick is only fully developed after twelve months and weighs approximately a staggering twelve kilograms when it fledges the nest. In ideal conditions Wandering Albatrosses can live to the ripe old age of about 80.