Black Skimmer

  Black Skimmer One of the more interesting patients to come to the Wildlife Center in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike was a Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger).  So many things make this species unique it’s hard to know where to start. With an oversized black tipped red bill, red legs and short white tail, the Black Skimmer is always an eye catcher. Like the pelican, the Black Skimmer has evolved a beak that is highly specialized. The only species that has a longer lower mandible than the top, the Black Skimmer slices the water’s surface with its lower mandible to “skim” small fish as it flies. As soon as a fish is detected, the upper mandible snaps closed. Using tactile senses instead of eyesight allows the Black Skimmer to feed even at night. Neither diurnal or nocturnal, the Black Skimmer is considered crepuscular, which means that it is the most active at twilight. Considered a medium sized bird, the wingspan of the skimmer is an astounding 44 inches! Highly maneuverable, it can execute intricate acrobatics; flocks often wheel in unison. The voice is an unusual dog-like bark, earning it the nickname “flying beagle”. The eyes are vertically slit, which is very uncommon except in cats, nocturnal reptiles, sharks and rays. A very useful adaptation for animals that must see well in very bright light as well as at night, evolutionary theorists don’t understand why it isn’t more common. The obvious advantage of the slit pupil is it’s ability to close much more tightly than a round pupil to protect it from extremely bright light, but it also enhances depth perception in the peripheral vision. This Black Skimmer presented with a wing injury. Unfortunately, a complete [...]

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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