Category Archives: WADING BIRDS

WANDERING WOOD STORK IN MASSACHUSETTS (VERY RARE)

A tender young Wood Stork has been calling our local mashes home for the past several weeks. Along with a second Wood Stork that was rescued from Horn Pond in Woburn, perhaps the two came in with the storm that tore through in October. Unlike the Woburn Wood Stork, Cape Ann’s Wood Stork has been observed feeding beautifully, flying magnificently, and pooping regularly!

The juvenile Wood Stork is far outside’s its normal range. From a population of tens of thousands, there remain only about 10,000 in the US due to habitat loss, most notably in the Florida Everglades. Juveniles disperse northward after breeding and the birds are increasingly nesting farther north. Northwards as far as North and South Carolina, that is, not  Massachusetts!

The Stork’s striking black tipped wings are so immense they make a wonderfully audible swish when the bird takes flight. Our Wood Stork is really very young; he still has a fluffy crown of fledgling feathers circling its face. When mature, the Wood Stork’s head is completely bald. With his large expressive brown eyes, I think we are seeing a Wood Stork at the age of its max cuteness.

Wood Storks have a fascinating method of feeding. They hold their bodies in a horizontal fashion while stirring up mud with their feet in the flats at low tide. They open wide impressively lengthy bills and anything that wriggles in is swallowed, including small fish (what we have been observing), crustaceans, snakes, eels, small rodents, and in their native range, even small alligators.

There are many herons and egrets still feeding in the marshes and I am reminded of the juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that several years ago spent the entire winter here. As long as he/she is finding plenty to eat, we can hope eventually it will take off for parts warmer.

The Wood Stork was behaving provocatively toward the Great BlueHeron, which is slightly larger. Whenever he got a little too close for comfort, the GHB would give warning with a grand flourishing of wings.

 

Although the GHB looks bigger, reportedly it is not.

Blurry photo, but here you can see a minnow in its mouth

Wood Stork breeding range map from Cornell

Grand Heron of the Great Marsh: Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.

Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At every location Great Blue Herons were foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning speed, and nearly always resurfacing with a fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elegant (mostly) and elusive Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.

Great Blue Heron range map

I Want What You Have!

What do Great Blue Herons, North America’s largest species of herons, eat? Because they feed in a variety of both freshwater and saltwater habitats, their diet is richly varied. Great Blue Herons dine on small fish, crabs, shrimp, mice, rats, voles, frogs, salamanders, turtles, gophers, snakes, many species of small waterbirds including ducks and ducklings, and insects.

How many Great Blue Herons do you see in the photo above? I thought there was only one in the shot, until returning to my office and had a good look at the scene.