The Snowy Egret is a coastal water bird commonly seen perched among mangrove roots with its bill pointed toward the water. Approximately 26” tall, the Snowy Egret is white with a black bill, black legs and bright yellow feet that resemble golden slippers. In spring, lace-like aigrettes (fancy feathers) grow in on its head and along its back for elaborate displays of courtship.
The Great Blue Heron is the tallest of the wading birds. It can be seen standing motionless in shallow water, watching for fish, which make up the majority of its diet. It is slate- blue in color with a white head, black stripe above the eye, and a yellow bill. Often solitary, it can sometimes be found with large flocks of other waders at fish concentrations.
The Osprey is large with long, narrow wings that are bent at the elbow. It is brown above and white below. Its head is mostly white with a prominent dark stripe through the eye. The soles of its feet have rough pads that allow the bird to grip slippery fish, which often carries in its talons as it flies to its perch or nest. A common sight locally, it frequently uses utility poles or channel markers as platforms for its large nest.
The Brown Pelican has a large, stocky, brown body including a massive bill and throat pouch. The non-breeding adult has a yellowish- white head and neck. The back of the neck of breeding adults is chestnut brown. Young birds are mostly brown. The Brown Pelican is listed as endangered in many states and threatened in Florida. Pelicans can commonly be seen gliding across the water, diving for a meal, or soaring high over Rookery Bay
Named for its wide, spoon-shaped bill, the roseate spoonbill feeds by sweeping its head through the water in a side-to-side motion, straining small fish, crustaceans and insects. It is pink with red eyes. Spoonbills are typically crepuscular (dawn and dusk) feeders. Historically common throughout Florida, the spoonbill population was decimated in the early 1900’s by plume hunters.
The Double- Crested Cormorant is a large black bird with a hooked bill adapted for catching fish. It has an orange throat patch during breeding. An expert swimmer and diver, it spends most of its time in the water pursuing fish with agility. The Double- Crested Cormorant is common year-round in Rookery Bay, and roosting in large numbers at the Rookery Islands. Frequently seen perched with wings spread outward.
A white bird with a long, yellow bill and black legs. The Great Egret was once almost extirpated from North America by plume hunters. It feeds alone on fish, frogs, and snakes in shallow water. It can often be found standing on mangrove prop roots in Rookery Bay. The Great Egret nests in colonies with other species of herons on the rookery island.
Commonly seen fishing along brackish coastal waters, the Tricolored Heron can be found up the Atlantic coast to Massachusetts. It is a medium- sized bird with a dark blue or purple upper body, a chestnut- colored chest, and white markings on its neck and back. It has a yellow or white chest when breeding. It typically hunts along mangroves and oyster bars, using its long, slender bill to pluck small fish from the water.
The Green Heron is usually secretive. It is small (18” long) and stocky and has relatively short legs. The adult is green mixed with blue-gray, with chestnut on its neck and a white throat. The top of its head is greenish- black and its legs are yellow. During breeding season, the male has orange legs. The green heron is usually solitary and may be seen perched on mangrove prop roots or hiding under a dock.
“The royal tern (Thalasseus maximus) is a seabird in the tern family Sternidae. This bird has two distinctive subspecies: T. m. maximus which lives on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the North and South America, and the slightly smaller T. m. albididorsalis lives on the coast of West Africa. The royal tern has a red-orange bill and a black cap during the breeding season, but in the winter the cap becomes patchy. The royal tern is found in Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean islands. The royal tern lives on the coast and is only found near salt water. They tend to feed near the shore, close to the beach or in backwater bays. The royal tern’s conservation status is listed as least concern.”
“The Sandwich tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. It is very closely related to the lesser crested tern (T. bengalensis), Chinese crested tern (T. bernsteini), Cabot’s tern (T. acuflavidus), and elegant tern (T. elegans) and has been known to interbreed with the lesser crested.”
“The Forster’s tern (Sterna forsteri) is a member of the tern family, Sternidae. It breeds inland in North America and winters south to the Caribbean and northern South America. This species is rare but annual in western Europe, and has wintered in Ireland and Great Britain on a number of occasions. No European tern winters so far north.”
The White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) is the most commonly seen bird in the Reserve, and often the most numerous at the mangrove rookeries. Ibis are solid white, with black wing tips that can be seen when in flight. Ibis have long pink or orange legs, a bald face, and a long, downward-curved bill that is well suited for probing in the mud for small crustaceans or worms.
The black skimmer (Rynchops niger) is a tern-like seabird, one of three very similar birds species in the skimmer family. It breeds in North and South America. Northern populations winter in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and the tropical and subtropical Pacific coasts, but the South American races make only shorter movements in response to annual floods which extend their feeding areas in the river shallows.
“The anhinga (/ænˈhɪŋɡə/; Anhinga anhinga), sometimes called snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey, secret crow, is a water bird of the warmer parts of the Americas. The word anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means devil bird or snake bird. When swimming the origin of the name snakebird is apparent: only the colored neck appears above water so the bird looks like a snake ready to strike. They do not have external nares (nostrils) and breathe solely through their epiglottis.”
“The cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a cosmopolitan species of heron (family Ardeidae) found in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate zones. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Bubulcus, although some authorities regard its two subspecies as full species, the western cattle egret and the eastern cattle egret. Despite the similarities in plumage to the egrets of the genus Egretta, it is more closely related to the herons of Ardea. Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, it has undergone a rapid expansion in its distribution and successfully colonised much of the rest of the world in the last century.”
The reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) is a medium-sized heron. It is a resident breeder in Central America, The Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast of the United States, and Mexico. There is post-breeding dispersal to well north of the nesting range. In the past, this bird was a victim of the plume trade. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, there are only 1,500 to 2,000 nesting pairs of reddish egrets in the United States — and most of these are in Texas. They are classified as “threatened” in Texas and receive special protection.
Starting out life as a white bird with a two-toned bill and pale legs, the Little Blue Heron is sometimes confused with the Snowy Egret. The adult is slate-blue, and its blue bill has a black tip. Its legs and feet are a dull greenish color. In the Reserve, it is most commonly seen wading along oyster bars and shallows. It nests on the rookery islands.
“The yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea, formerly placed in the genus Nycticorax), also called the American night heron or squawk, is a fairly small heron. It is found throughout a large part of the Americas, especially (but not exclusively) in warmer coastal regions; an example occurrence is the Petenes mangroves of the Yucatan. A related heron, the Bermuda night heron, was endemic to Bermuda, but became extinct following human colonisation.”
“The Bonaparte’s gull is a small species, larger only than the little gull and the Saunders’s gull among all gull species. Adults are 28–38 cm (11–15 in) long with a 76–84 cm (30–33 in) wingspan and a body mass of 162–270 g (5.7–9.5 oz). They have a black hood and a short thin dark bill. The body is mainly white with pale grey back and upper wings. The underwing is pale and the wing tips are dark. They have pink legs. In winter, the head is white.”
“The laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) is a medium-sized gull of North and South America. It breeds on the Atlantic coast of North America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. Northernmost populations migrate further south in winter, and this species occurs as a rare vagrant to western Europe. (There was an influx into North-west Europe in late October 2005 when at least 18, possibly as many as 35, individuals occurred on one day in the UK alone.) The laughing gull’s English name is derived from its raucous kee-agh call, which sounds like a high-pitched laugh ‘ha… ha… ha…'”
Adults are 49 cm (19 in) length and with a 124 cm (49 in) wingspan. The head, neck and underparts are white; the relatively short bill is yellow with a dark ring; the back and wings are silver gray; and the legs are yellow. The eyes are yellow with red rims. This gull takes three years to reach its breeding plumage; its appearance changes with each fall moult.
The White Ibis is the most commonly seen bird in the Reserve, and often the most numerous at the mangrove rookeries. Ibis are solid white, with black wing tips that can be seen when in flight. Ibis have long pink or orange legs, a bald face, and a long, downward-curved bill that is well suited for probing in the mud for small crustaceans or worms.
“The Swallow Tailed Kite is largely associated with large tracts of wetland forests which accommodates the birds nesting habits. Loblolly pines are the most prevalent choice for building nests but bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) are also used when the pines are unavailable.”