Can You Hear Me Now?

The American Bittern (Botauru lentiginosus) is a one of the stockier and short legged members of the Ardeidae family which includes herons, egrets and bittern. This Nearctic species has a breeding range in Canada and northern United States to parts of central United States.  They are solitary and prefer to hide in heavy reeds, cat-tails and grass around isolated bogs, marshes and flooded meadows. Bitterns can be found in both saltwater and freshwater marshes. It sports brown streaking with an appearance similar to immature night herons. The coloration is such an effective camouflage the bird simply melts into the reeds.  Animals that use camouflage as their primary defense against danger freeze when spotted. The Bittern has an interesting adaptive behavior to hide; it stands motionless with its bill pointed upward and its body held in tightly while giving the appearance of a clump of reeds in the water.  Once the Bittern decides that hiding won’t work, it puffs itself up and sways ominously to show how dangerous it is. The bird blends in perfect with the brown vegetation as it moves slowly with its bill held horizontal while eyes are focused downward to spot prey such as frogs, small snakes, fish, rodents and eels.   They are generally crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) and hunt along the margins of ponds in dense vegetation.   The American bittern does not perch in trees but spends most of its time on the ground.    Because the Bittern is shy and reclusive, it is more difficult to find in the wild than its family members the herons and egrets. You may not be able to see one, but their booming voice is quite loud and distinctive leaving no doubt [...]

Bad Hair Day

"Fish and visitors smell in three days" (Benjamin Franklin)...but so do Yellow-crowned Night Herons. The annual flood of herons has begun at the Wildlife Center.  Herons are one of the few BIG EXCEPTIONS to the “place the baby bird back in the nest or in a substitute nest and see if the parents come to feed it” rule. Herons NEVER attend to a baby that has fallen from the nest. Every year the Wildlife Center receives over one hundred of these prehistoric looking creatures. In the Houston area these birds nest at the tops of old oak or pine trees 70 feet in the air.  In other biospheres, herons don't nest so high, some even nest on the ground. Their nests are big messy affairs that sometimes fall apart. Should this happen, the fall usually injures the babies.  Once on the ground their body temperature plummets and the nestlings rapidly become hypothermic. These compromised babies are good candidates for maggots that hatch from fly eggs. A baby that could have been saved sometimes has to be euthanized because of the tissue damage done by the maggots.  It is important to keep these babies warm and get them to the Wildlife Center ASAP. Night Herons really eat at night! Seriously unusual behavior for waterbirds. During breeding season when dietary requirements are much higher they are frequently are seen during the day. They are often seen in flooded plains, suburban drainage ditches and around water detention ponds.  They exhibit strong nesting site fidelity which means they return to the exact same nest year after year. Young inexperienced birds do their best, but the nests are usually flimsy and small. Each year the nest is improved. This leads to huge [...]

Great Egret

The Great Egret By Margaret Pickell One blustery day in February, the Wildlife Center of Texas received a frantic call to aid a large white bird. Nothing unusual except – as the box was opened - there lay a huge ailing white bird unable to stand.  One of the Wildlife Center of Texas' senior wildlife rehabilitators immediately began to stabilize the beautiful white feathered creature. After several days of medication and therapy, the bird began to stand on its own.  As weeks of care passed, he continued to gain strength and started preening, a wonderful sight to see. Knowing that healing was well underway was further evidenced by him putting away tons (well, not literally, lets just say many pounds) of fish and strutting around his enclosure in beautiful breeding plumage. This gorgeous bird was none other than a Great Egret. The Great Egret ‘ardea alba’ is the tallest of our four white egrets (great, snowy, white morph of reddish, and cattle egret).  Maturity results in a height of thirty-nine inches and an astonishing fifty-one inch wingspan. Solid white feathers adorn the tall lanky body, a yellow bill and legs as black as coal.  During breeding season, long plumes down the birds back are present for all to see, especially Miss Egret.  Once prized for their beautiful feathers, these birds are now federally protected. The Great Egret is a slender long legged wading bird that is found in waterways around the world. Fortunately, we have a good population of these birds on the Texas coast.  They can be found in a variety of environments from saltwater marshes to fresh water ponds. Try this yummy menu for a filling meal or a light snack consisting of [...]

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