|The tricolored heron busily hunts for fish in shallow water|
One solitary tricolored heron spends considerable time in our lake. I see him early in the morning, just before dark and most times in between. Of all the water birds that frequent our 12-acre pond, this medium-sized wader is our most consistent visitor. He’s also the least skittish when it comes to interacting with people.
The tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor) is a busy bird. Whenever I see him, he’s in shallow water hunting for food. Many wading birds look like statues - standing still, poised to strike when prey is sighted.
That’s not how the tricolored heron does it.
His hunting technique is more like a dance. Egretta tricolor prances about on his long yellow legs, tucking in his neck then stretching it out. His wings open and shut in rapid succession as the bird darts forward before ultimately spearing prey with his pointed beak.
The food he likes to eat is mainly fish supplemented by the occasional frog, crustacean, spider, worm, leech, mosquito and other insects. Shallow water is his preferred habitat, which is why I always see the tricolored heron along the water’s edge.
|Tricolored heron with fish in its sharp beak|
Saying that I “see” this 26-inch tall bird with bluish-grey, white and purple plumage might be a misnomer because he blends so seamlessly into the reeds and grasses. Quite often, I don’t realize he’s present until I’m almost upon him.
Unlike the great blue heron, great white egret, ibises and other water birds, Egretta tricolor doesn’t fly away as I approach. Instead, he stops hunting, stands still, extends his long, slender neck toward me and pays attention. It’s as if he’s thinking, “Is this human a threat?”
I wonder if he recognizes me as I do him. Does he realize I mean him no harm? Does he allow me to approach closely because he knows I would never hurt or scare him intentionally?
The more likely explanation is that over time, tricolored herons have developed a more trusting nature toward people than most other wild birds. It’s a trait they share with scrub jays, sandhill cranes and chickadees. Although I have no idea why certain animals are less timid around people, I’m grateful for the close encounters their tolerance enables. I like being able to row my boat within a few feet of the tricolored heron without causing him to fly away.
|Such a beautiful bird|
We humans enjoy developing close relationships with animals. We cuddle with our dogs and cats and make pets out of birds, reptiles, amphibians of all shapes and sizes. Some of us have livestock or keep horses. Although we provide food, housing and medical attention for the animals under our care, the relationships we develop with them are hardly one-sided. They nourish us as well.
While I no longer keep pets or have livestock, my need to feel accepted by members of the animal kingdom is as strong today as it has ever been.
As I row around the lake, I find myself taking mental note of the different water birds’ reaction to my presence. Great white egrets, blue herons, wood storks or ibises might abandon their hunting when they see me approach but thankfully, the tricolored heron - a slender bird with a broad tolerance for inquisitive humans – does not.
Not only is Egretta tricolor a bird of beautiful plumage, with wonderful coloring and a fascinating hunting technique, but more than most water birds, he tolerates my presence. I like him for that and maybe, just maybe, he likes me too.