Bird Watching with Bubba

Excerpt No. 7
Ambergris Island

The Great Blue Heron
Ardea herodias

In the kingdom of Aves there is an order called Ciconiiformes (long legged fishing birds) and within that order there is a family known as Areidae (herons). The Great Blue Heron is a member of that family and by far the most majestic of its 58 members.

Ambergris is home of many and is considered part of the breeding area for the non-residents.

The Great Blue has yellow eyes, a yellow to orange bill and pale yellow legs. Its upper parts are gray. It sometimes appears to have dark shoulders. Its name "Great Blue Heron' must come from its slaty gray color but in truth is not blue at all.

The juvenile of Ambergris have an entirely white plumage and can be distinguished from the other white Ardeidae by its bill, eye and leg color.

The masterful fishing bird hunts mainly by standing and waiting, or stealthily stalking. Ambergris has many non-migratory residents but populations from the Northern Americas migrate to our warmer fishing grounds in October - November; raising the population on the island dramatically.

Adult Herons stand 40 to 50 inches tall and are often mistaken for Cranes. A sure way to tell the difference is to see it fly. A heron flies with an S-shape bend in its neck, and a crane flies with its neck extended.

Standing motionless most of the time, this very patient fisherman will on occasion lift its wings not to fly but to cast a dark reflection on the surface of the water that allows it to spot prey below.

I was assuming that the broken Soya Shells strewn on the sand flats between the beach crest and lagoon were the work of raccoons. (Soya is a local name for a variety of Hermit Crabs that choose shells from large swamp snails). One evening I observed a tall long legged bird, standing in the moonlight, put its foot down on an unsuspecting Soya. It thrust its pointed bill down to crack open the shell and removed a nice bite of meat, then threw its head skyward and swallowed. Not being able to resist any longer Bubba turned on the flashlight. With a start it took off saying, 'Quok - Quok - Quok' as it slowly flapped its wings and disappeared into the shadows of the lagoon.

That same evening back at the cabaña, I read most Ardeidae have a rough guttural voice and give their vocal sounds in a row, simultaneous with the down beat of its wings. I haven't been able to get deep enough into the lagoon's mangrove to see the nests, but from my book's photographs they seem to be crude stick platforms on the crest of the mangrove. Maybe after the mosquito festival I'll look again.

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Birds of Ambergris Caye

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