I’ve been somewhat remiss in posting here lately – December has presented the dual challenge of getting ready for the holidays, combined with a rather aggressive travel schedule for me. However, I am back on track now, and will finish out this year with a couple of new postings discussing the remainder of the heron family – starting with the Tricolored Heron.
Formerly known as the Louisiana Heron (and I don’t know who changed the name, as I think it was just fine as it was), this is the third blue heron in our lineup. Recall that we have looked at the Great Blue Heron, followed by the Little Blue Heron. This third in line is often confused with the Little Blue Heron, but stick with me here and I’ll give you a few pointers for identification. Once you know what to look for, telling the two apart will be easy. Amaze your friends!
The Tricolored Heron is a small to medium sized heron, similar in size to the little blue – with a length of about 22 in (56 cm) and a wingspan of up to just over 3 feet (96 cm). It is relatively common in swamps and marshes throughout the gulf coast of the US, and up the eastern seaboard as well. It is a regular visitor to Mexico and other parts of Central America, and is also found throughout the Caribbean and down to the northern coast of South America.
These herons are often found along with Little Blue Herons, and at a distance they can be difficult to distinguish. Note the slate blue/gray back and wings, and the dark head (which ranges from a reddish color in juveniles to a more uniform slate blue/gray in adults). However, the Tricolor Heron is unique in that it has a completely white underbelly and white under the wings as well. Furthermore, the front of the neck is white with dark speckles.
It is the white color which is diagnostic with the Tricolored Heron. Neither the Little Blue Heron, with whom it is often found, nor the Reddish Egret, who also shares a gray and dull red color pallet, have the least bit of white. So, spot the white, you’ve identified the Tricolored Heron.
The Tricolored Heron is primarily a fish eater, but will gladly consume any small crustaceans, insects or even small reptiles that it comes across. These birds, similar to the Little Blue Heron, will most often be found wading in the shallows at water’s edge, stalking their next meal. They can often be seen “canopy feeding,” in which they run across the shallows with wings spread to usher small fish to their end,
We’ll take a closer look at canopy feeding in a few weeks when we discuss the Reddish Egret in more detail.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the three types of blue herons, there remains yet another heron to cover – the Green Heron. Stay tuned next week as we review this small but colorful heron. Meanwhile, if you’re south of the freezing weather, get out with your binoculars and maybe your camera, and start identifying those birds! If you’re in the frozen north, come on down, the weather’s fine!