Birds of Seabrook Island

COAST BIRDS
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ANECDOTES

  White Herons
 
 

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  Order Ciconiiformes (Pelecaniformes) - Wading Birds
   Family Ardeidae - Herons and Bitterns
  Wading Birds are medium to large, long-legged and long necked. Their bills are long, straight, and sharp. Most species are dependent on water for feeding. Most nest in colonies - a few are solitary. Young remain in the nest after hatching and are cared for by both parents.
   The Tree of Life places herons and bitterns in the Pelecaniformes.
Herons and Bitterns are widely distributed around the world. They fly with their neck folded into an "S" and their legs folded against their body (contrast with ibises and storks). Herons typically feed on fish but may take a wide variety of small prey.
Herons and Egrets are typical large waders.
 
Duneloft Salt Marsh
 
MORE (Order)      MORE (Family)
     
 
White Herons - A Primer
 
There are several species of herons and egrets that are predominantely white or have white immatures. These can be particularly confusing in the fall when young birds have yet to develop some of the typica adultl characteristics.
    The Great Egret has dark legs and feet. Their bill is thin and yellow. They are our largest "white" heron.
Great Egret
   
Great Egret
    The Snowy Egret has black legs with yellow feet ("golden slippers"). They have thin black bills with yellow lores (the bare skin in front of the eye). Along with immature Little Blue Herons, they are our smallest "white" herons, but size is often difficult to judge unless the species are standing side-by-side. Snowy Egrets are more likely to forage in the surf than other herons. They also pursue prey actively, running and using their wings to "hood" their visual field.
   In the fall, juvenile Snowy Egrets have yellow-green or yellow lores. The legs are green, usually with a darker stripe down the front edge. Feet range from green to dull yellow at this time.
Snowy Egret
  Egrets Egrets

Snowy Egret

  Size comparison of Great and Snowy Egrets.
Photos by Marie Wardell
 
     Juvenile Little Blue Herons are also white and are identical to Snowy Egrets in size. The young Little Blue Heron usually has a grayish, green, or pink bill and lores and the legs and feet are pale dull green. Their grayish bill becomes bluish as the birds mature. In the first spring, mottled blue feathers begin to show ("calico") and cover the entire body in the adult. Their legs are pale with a dull grey color.
   Young of these two identically sized herons are difficult to distinguish in the fall. It is likely that most of our fall birds are snowies - Little Blue Herons probably do not breed on Seabrook.
   Yearling birds may be "calico" with some blue feathers amid the white plumage. Adult Little Blue herons are a rich blue.
Little Blue Heron
   
First year Little Blue Heron
     The other white heron than has been seen on Seabrook is the white morph of the Reddish Egret. Reddish Egrets are larger than Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons but smaller than Great Egrets. The white morph has dark legs and feet and a dark or bi-colored bill. They feed actively, chasing fish on foot, running, jumping, and spinning. They are restricted to shallow salt-water areas (surf, runnels, inlet, lagoon, etc.) on Seabrook and Kiawah. You would not find them inland.
Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret
     
First year Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret, White Phase
       Cattle Egrets are also white but would not be seen on the beach. They are slightly smaller than Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons and have short yellow bills (adult) and dark legs - becoming red-orange in summer. They also have a pale orange or rusty wash on the head, back and throat as adults during the breeding season. Look for them on the pastures of the Equestrian Center and around Palmetto Lake and the lake at Freshfields.
Cattel Egret
       
Cattle Egret
   
   
Duneloft Salt Marsh
    Duneloft Wood Storks Duneloft
   
Duneloft to Seabrook Island Road
   
Duneloft

Between Duneloft and Deer Point Villas (left)

Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibises, and Little and Great Blue Herons
       Waders in the marsh area between Capn' Sam's Road and Marsh Haven. This area has limited tidal flow from Capn' Sam's Creek near the Crab Dock and under each road and retains water at low tide - an ideal situation for the water to become hypersaline and, perhaps, support brine shrimp and other halophyte blooms. At times this area has up to 50 waders feeding (above right). A rich food source?
   Note that I have also seen Blue-winged Teal and Greater Yellowlegs in this habitat but they are not regular visitors. Glossy Ibis have also been seen. Killdeer and Black-bellied Plovers may feed on the mud flats that have developed near Capn' Sam's Road in front of the fire station.
       
    Banner - Snowy Egrets, Jennkins Point.
       
       
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