HART BEAT: REDDISH

 Reddish Egrets are known for “canopy feeding.” ( Photo 2 )

Reddish Egrets are known for “canopy feeding.” (Photo 2)

“You completely missed Reddish.” A relatively new HartBeat reader who had just acquired a copy of Volume 1 of the HartBeat columns (Volume 2 is currently being edited for publication by my son) was commenting on one of the early columns in the book entitled  “Red By Any Other Name.”

He was right: there was red, cardinal, scarlet, crimson, and vermilion, as the column featured the Vermilion Flycatcher. But I had failed to include reddish. Thankfully, he did not mention that I also missed rose, rosy, roseate, ruby, ruddy, rufous and rusty, all presumably additional shades of red. But for now, the focus is on reddish, as in the Reddish Egret, the only bird featuring that descriptive name.

The dictionary defines reddish as “tinged with red.” That is quite appropriate for the Reddish Egret, as the only part of the bird truly tinged with red is the head and neck area. (photo 1) The Reddish Egret differs from other egrets in that it often hunts by chasing fish around in a mad dash, sometimes ending up by spreading its wings in an umbrella fashion creating a large shaded area immediately around its feet. This technique is called canopy feeding, as the shaded area presumably attracts fish in close for easy pickings by the bird. (photo 2, note the blue legs of the breeding plumage in this photo.)

Another quirk seen frequently performed by Reddish Egrets, more than any other egrets, is an examination of the underside of its wings, probably performed to remove certain pesky flies that may bother it. (photo 3)

Very young Reddish Egrets are mostly brown, without any of the subsequent gray body or reddish coloring they will later obtain. (photo 4) Juveniles become all gray, still without the telltale reddish head and neck, and have an all-black bill. (photo 5) As they approach adult plumage, Reddish Egrets begin to develop the reddish neck and head, and the pink part of the bill with the black tip begins to appear. (photo 6)

There is also a white morph form of the Reddish Egret, which is all white but has the same pink bill with the black tip of its reddish namesake. (photo 7) Less than 20 percent of Reddish Egrets are of the all-white version, but that percentage is believed to have been much higher prior to the late 1800’s when the white morph birds were much prized by plume hunters seeking their white feathers for women’s hats.

White Reddish Egrets are white from birth, not needing to go through any color changes as they mature. The only way to distinguish the younger all white birds is by the bill, which like its reddish siblings has an all-black bill until it develops the pink base of the adult plumage. (photo 8) Interestingly, reddish and white siblings can be produced by the same pair of Reddish Egrets and raised in the same nest. Reddish Egrets are confined to the Gulf Coast and southern Florida, nesting as far north as Merritt Island and on spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon. (photo 4 is from the Indian River at Fort Pierce) There is only one recorded nesting north of Florida, in 2004, in South Carolina.

The Reddish Egret has another, perhaps less significant distinction. It is the only North American bird species using the “ish” description for its name and color. There is no blackish, brownish, bluish, grayish, greenish, purplish, or yellowish named species of bird whatsoever. Another somewhat similar descriptive color name usage for species is the modifier “Snowy” as in Snowy Egret, Owl and Plover.

I suppose snowy means somewhat white, or almost white, or similar to snow, which is usually pretty much white until it comes into contact with people, cars, snow plows or shovels. Then it can become pretty gross. Or “Sooty,” as in Sooty Grouse, Shearwater, or Tern, which is what old, sitting on the ground for some time, snow can begin to look like. Of course, I only recall this from distant memory as I have spent the last twenty winters in sunny Florida where reddish, or greenish in particular, is definitely preferred to snowy every day of the winter.

For more on Reddish Egrets, see: myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/imperiled/profiles/birds/reddish-egret/ and www.reddishegret.org/REEG_plan_final_single.pdf.

HART BEAT: YELLOWTHROATS

 The male Yellowthroat has a distinctive black mask.

The male Yellowthroat has a distinctive black mask.

The Doctor’s new patient information form I was required to fill out included three questions I had not encountered before. They wanted to know my “color,” “ethnicity,” and my “country of origin.” “Color” was easy: I was “sun-tanned with various bruise splotches” caused by the blood thinning medications I take.

I was not sure what they were asking for in “ethnicity,” so I checked the definition and found “…belonging to a social group…with common cultural tradition.” OK, I am an environmentalist, belonging to a number of environmental organizations, so “environmentalist” went down on the form.

“Country of origin” proved to be a more difficult question. With a surname of Rufe, I know I am primarily German. But my middle name, Hart, that I have been known by my entire life, derives from my English roots, as my friend, Google, informs me a “hart is a stag red deer in England.” But my grandfather, Jacob Appenzeller, was Swiss, so I guess I am one-quarter Swiss, and I just recently learned that I am descended from a prominent Swedish ancestor who came to America in 1640 and became a confidant and counselor to William Penn when he founded Pennsylvania in 1682. So I answered the question with “various and diverse.”

While in the midst of this questionnaire process I received a message that a friend had a Yellow-throated Warbler he was seeing regularly at his place. That made me wonder how color, ethnicity, and country of origin may have gone into the process of naming and identifying birds. Certainly color is a huge factor as a majority of birds are described by their color. Ethnicity probably is not as important in bird nomenclature, but country of origin and even state location has played a role in bird names. The popular birding app, iBird Pro, has 19 species with the modifier “American” in front of it; 13 with either “European” or “Eurasian” as part of the name; and a great many “Eastern” and “Western” species.  But the champion bird name modifier is simply “Common,” with 30 species bearing this less than descriptive manner of helping birders to identify different species.

Among the warblers there are two species described as yellowthroats: the Common Yellow-throat and the Yellow-throated Warbler. Both do indeed have yellow throats, but that is where any similarity ends. Yellow-throated Warblers are basically gray and white with black streaks and the only yellow on the bird is on its throat. (left) They are slightly larger and chunkier than most warblers and have larger bills than most warblers. Males and females have pretty much the same plumage, and young look like the adults from the beginning. They prefer pines, sycamores and large trees with open under-story and can be found in south Florida in the winter.

Conversely, the Common Yellowthroat is primarily an olive colored warbler with extensive yellow extending from the throat down onto the underbelly and again under the tail. The male has a black mask (top) which differentiates it from the female’s more plain plumage. (right) Young males develop their black mask after their first year, but it may look quite scraggly until it fully develops. (below, left) Common is an apt description for the species as they are indeed ubiquitous, found in a great variety of habitats throughout most of North America, and year round in south Florida. They are skulkers and sometimes can be frustrating to see as they move through thick close to the ground vegetation.

After the doctor saw my new patient form and stopped laughing at my answers, she said “color” – white, “ethnicity” – American, and “country of origin” – USA, would have been all I needed.

Still, it seems to me that these categories applied to birds could be a relevant topic for considerable research. Think about it, every spring millions, if not billions of migrants invade our shores and great land from all over South and Central America, from many different “countries of origin,” and we don’t question their motives at all, except that we know they want a better life here each summer. And Lord only knows what their “ethnicity” might be!

Fortunately, we are well able to see their “color,” and thankfully, that aspect is a very fulfilling part of our birding sport. Now if we could only get them to fill out a questionnaire we would have it made.

For more on Yellow-throated Warblers, see: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-throated_Warbler/id. For more on Common Yellowthroats, see: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Yellowthroat/id

HART BEAT: AMERICAN AVOCETS

“Will we see any Avocets or Stilts?” This is a question we get on almost any field trip to a location where either or both species might be expected. Clearly, these two similar black and white birds, with their long, backward bending legs, long up-curved bills and distinctive plumage, are definitely favorites for most birders. While they are similar in many ways, they are also different.

HART BEAT: BLACK-NECKED STILTS

Certainly the Black-necked Stilt is aptly named, for if ever a bird appeared to be walking on stilts, this is it. (1) However, as stilted as a human stilt walker may appear, the Black-necked Stilt seems to be able to glide along on its long legs very naturally. On the other hand, when coming in for a landing (3) or flying, (4 and 5), the long legs seem to fit that awkward part of the stilted definition.