Water Birds, Game Birds and Birds of Prey

By Chester A. Reed

Order 7


Order Herodiones



Family Plataleidæ


183. Ajaia ajaja. 33 in.

Head entirely bald in adults, and only feathered to the eyes in young birds; bill long, thin, flat and very much broadened at the end, variously colored with green, blue and orange; eyes and legs red. Young birds, without the bright carmine shoulders or saffron tail of the adults. These peculiar but handsomely tinted birds were formerly abundant in Florida and in the adjoining states, but so many have been killed for their feathers, that they are now rare and confined to the most inaccessible swamps of Southern Florida. Spoonbills travel and nest in communities; their flight is strong and Heron-like, but they carry their neck fully extended, their ample wings slowly beating the air.

Nest. A frail structure of sticks, in mangroves or low trees; 3 or 4 pale, greenish blue eggs splashed with brown (2.50x 1.70) ; May, June.

Range. Florida and the Gulf States, and Southern Texas.


Family Ibididæ


184. Guara alba. 25 in.

Tips of primaries black; plumage, otherwise, entirely white; bill, face and legs, orange red or carmine. Young with head and neck, and more or less of the body, brownish or streaked with brown. White Ibises are very abundant in the South Atlantic and Gulf States, breeding in immense rookeries in remote swamps, placing their frail platforms in bushes over the water or sometimes weaving nests out of rushes, attached to upright canes and brake. These rookeries are very untidy and offensive to human beings, and millions and millions of black flies and mosquitoes will be encountered by any who wish to investigate the breeding places of these birds.

Notes. A loud, harsh croak.

Nest. Of twigs in bushes, or of rushes in the tangle and brake of marshes; 3 or 4 whitish eggs, handsomely spotted and splashed with brownish.

Range. Breeds north to South Carolina and Southern 111. Winters from the Gulf States southward.


185. Guard rubra. 25 in.

This beautiful species is wholly bright scarlet, except for the black primaries; young birds are found in all stages of plumage from the brownish-gray and white of the first year birds, to the full plumage of the adults.

This is a tropical ibis that abounds in northern South America, but is yearly decreasing in numbers, owing to the persistency with which they are hunted, their feathers being much in demand for tying trout flies, as well as for decorating hats, a barbarous practice that is being stopped in this country, by legislation and public sentiment.

Nest. In rushes or mangroves like that of the last species; the eggs are the same size but average brighter in color (2.25x1.60).

Range. Northern South America, casually north to the Gulf States, but has not been reported for years in our country.


186. Plegadis autumnalis. 25 in.

Like the next, which is our common species, but with the feathers about the face not white, as in that species.

Range. Tropical America, casually north to southeastern United States.



187. Plegadis guarauna. 24 in.

Bill, face and legs, carmine red; feathers bordering the face, white; wings and tail glossy greenish-black; rest of plumage rich chestnut-brown, glossed with purple on the head. They nest by thousands in extensive swamps, in company with herons.

Nest. Strongly and compactly woven of dead rushes attached to living stalks, well cupped, thus differing from that of any of the herons; eggs plain greenish blue (1.95x1.35); deeper and brighter than those of any of the herons.

Range. Texas, New Mexico, Ariz., Calif., and southward.


Family Ciconidæ


188. Mycteria americana. 40 to 46 in.

Entire head unfeathered and covered with scales; both head and legs are pale bluish in color; eye brown; plumage entirely white except for the glossy purplishblack primaries and tail. This large bird is a true stork and is very similar to the common European Stork. The name ibis was incorrectly and unfortunately applied to this species, and tends to confusion. Its flight is very easy and graceful, accomplished with a slow flapping of the wings, alternated at short intervals with long sails. At times they mount high in the air and circle about like hawks or vultures.

Notes. Loud, hoarse croaks.

Nest. A shallow platform of sticks in bushes or at low elevations in trees, usually over the water, the birds swarming in the most inaccessible swamps. Their 3 or 4 eggs are white and granular.

Range. Breeds in the Gulf States and north to South Carolina; later may stray north to New York.


Family Ardeidæ


190. Botaurus lentiginosiis. 28 in.

Much variegated with brown and yellowish -brown; adults with a long, broad, black stripe on either side of the white throat; eye yellow; legs and base of bill greenish-yellow. Bitterns have a great many local names, most of which refer to the peculiar pumping noise that the male makes during the mating season. Perhaps the most common of these is " Stake-driver." Bitterns are found in bogs or marshes; they remain concealed by the tall grass until any intruder is very near, before they take flight.

Notes. A squawk of alarm ; song a hollow " punker-lunk."

Nest. A grass-lined hollow in tufts of grass or turf, in the middle of bogs or marshes. 3 or 4 plain brownish eggs, measuring 1.95x1.50. But one or two pairs nest in a locality; May, June.

Range. Breeds in the northern half of the United States and Southern Canada; winters in southern half of the United States.


191. Ixobrychus exilis. 13 in.

Male with the crown and back glossy black; female with these areas hair-brown, and streaked with brown below. These diminutive little bitterns are very shy and retiring, and seldom seen away from the reed grown marshes or ponds that they frequent.

Notes. A hoarse croak, and a softly repeated " coo."

Nest. A platform of dead rushes twisted about the living stalks. The 3 or 4 eggs are pale bluish white. (1.2x.9) ; May, June.

Range. Breeds from the Gulf States, locally to Southern Canada; winters from the Gulf States southward.



191.1. Ixobrychus neoxynus. 13 in.

This extremely rare little bittern is of the same size and form as the common species. The crown, back, wing-feathers and tail are black, and the rest of the plumage is more or less intense chestnut brown. The majority of specimens have been taken in Florida and Ontario, with one each from, Michigan and Massachusetts. There are about twenty of them known to be preserved.


192. Ardea Occidentalis. 50 in.

This is the largest heron that we get in North America, surpassing even the Great Blue. Its plumage is entirely white; no "aigrettes" on the back, but two white plumes on the back of the head and the feathers of the breast much lengthened, the same as in adult Blue Herons; bill, eyes and legs yellow. A gray phase of this heron, or a hybrid between it and the Great Blue Heron, is occasionally found in Southern Florida; it is similar to the Blue Heron, but paler and with the head and neck white.

Nest. A large platform of sticks placed in the tops of mangroves. Their three or four eggs are not distinguishable from those of the next species; June.

Range. Said to be not uncommon on some of the Florida Keys.


194. Ardea herodias. 48 in.

Adult Blue Herons are very handsome birds, as may be seen in the illustration. Young birds, and nine out of ten that we see will be young birds, are much duller colored and have no plumes. It takes several years for them to attain their perfect plumage. Their nests are placed in the tops of the tallest trees and are, consequently, difficult to get at. In some heronries, trees have been found containing as many as 40 nests. In flight, herons always carry their head drawn in against the shoulders, the neck being curved below.

Nest. A platform of sticks in tall trees in wet woods. 3 or 4 pale greenish-blue eggs (2.50x1.50) ; May, June.

Range. Breeds locally throughout the United States and Canada, either in colonies, or single pairs where they are persecuted as in New England; winters in Southern U. S. 149b. Ward Heron (A. h. wardi) is similar but lighter below and the neck is darker and browner; it abounds in Florida


196. Herodias egretta. 41 in.

Entirely white, with no plumes on the head but with a long train of straight "aigrette" plumes growing from the middle of the back; bill and eye, yellow; legs and feet, black. Young and adults in winter, without plumes. The hand of man, to gratify the desire of woman, has ruthlessly slaughtered thousands upon thousands of these exquisitely beautiful birds; in Florida where they were abundant a few years ago. only stragglers are seen. A few of these heronries are yet left, either because they are in wildernesses where man has not yet penetrated, or are strongly protected by the humane owners of the land. It is only at the breeding places that they can be killed in numbers, as at other times they are shy; and it is only during nesting season that they wear their beautiful plumes.

Nest. A frail platform of sticks, at low elevations, in bushes usually over water in swamps. Eggs, 3 or 4 in number, plain bluish green (2.25x1.45); April to June.


197. Eyretta candidissima. 24 in.

Plumage white; in breeding season with numerous recurved plumes growing from the middle of the back; long crest of plumes on the back of the head, and on the breast. Bill black, greenish at the base and about the eyes; legs black; feet yellow. This species is the most beautiful of the Egrets and consequently is the one that has suffered most from " plume hunters." Although they are now protected wherever they can be, their ranks have been so decimated that extermination is threatened within a few years; the demand for their plumes is still so great that lawless men will commit murder to obtain them (Warden Bradley having been shot in 1905, while preventing the destruction of herons in Southern Florida).

Nest. In swamps, in company with other small herons, the nests being frail platforms of twigs on branches of trees. Eggs pale greenish-blue.

Range. Breeding range formerly coincident with that of the last, but now very rare.


198. Dichromanassa rufescens. 29 in.

Two color phases, the gray being the most common: Head and neck, including plumes on neck and breast, reddish-brown: rest of plumage gray, the plumes on the back being lightest; feet blue-black; bill yellowish at the base and black at the tip. In the white phase, the plumage is entirely, or nearly, white, including the plumes. As usual, these egrets associate in large flocks, of their own kind or other small herons. Their food consists of small fish, frogs, lizards, insects and mice. They will stand motionless in shallow water, for a long time waiting for their prey, and woe to the creature that comes within striking 'distance of their spear-like bill. Their flight is strong and graceful as they make their way from their breeding places to their feeding grounds on the mud flats, left bare by the receding tide.

Nest. Like that of other herons; eggs slightly more greenish blue than those of the other egrets ( 1.9x1.45) ; May, June.

Range. Breeds in the Gulf coast states, and north to South Carolina.


199. Bydranassa, tricolor ruficollis. 26 in.

In breeding plumage, with short plumes on the hack, extending three or four inches beyond the tips of the wings. Throat, front line of neck, and underparts white; head and neck reddish-purple; back and wings slaty; crest whitish; bill and legs dark; eyes red. A very abundant species throughout the year, on the Gulf coast of the United States. Their bearing is one of self-esteem and their walk slow and stately; they are often called " Lady of the Waters," because of the imposing picture that they make. They are very sociable, rarely quarrel among themselves, and are usually found in company with Little Blue Herons and Egrets.

Nest. They nest in communities in mangroves in southern Florida and in swamps, in company with many other species, in the northern portions of their range. Their nesting habits and eggs are the same as those of the Snowy Heron.

Range. Breeds and is resident in the South Atlantic and Gulf States.


200. Florida cærulca. 22 in.

Head and neck, maroon; rest of plumage slaty-blue; plumes on back of head, breast and on the back; eyes yellow; bill and feet greenish. Young birds are white, usually with a tinge of bluish on the forehead and ends of the wings. They can be distinguished from the similar Snowy Herons by the greenish-black legs, while the legs of the latter are black with yellow feet. These little herons are resident and most abundant in the South Atlantic and Gulf States. They are at home in and enjoy the rankest and most impenetrable swamps, where only birds or reptiles can tread with safety. Yet herons are an interesting group and, in their own way, perform useful service to mankind by destroying quantities of reptiles, insects and mice.

Nest. The nesting habits and eggs of this species are the same as those of the little Snowy Heron and the eggs cannot be distinguished with certainty.

Range. Breeds north to Virginia and Illinois; later may stray north to New England.


201. Butorides virescens. 17 in.

Smallest of the family, except the Least Bittern. In breeding plumage, they are one of the most beautiful of herons. They may be found in marshes, along creeks or about the edges of shallow ponds or lakes. They are often seen sitting upon a partly submerged log sunning themselves, or waiting for a tempting frog or fish to pass within reach. When they are among rushes, they will usually attempt to escape observation by mimicking their surroundings, and they do so very successfully. When they are alarmed and take flight they utter a single sharp shriek. At other times they utter a series of hollow screams, " qu-ick, qu-ick," and also a hollow croak.

Nest. In bushes, in communities or in company with other species in the south, but usually a few pairs nest in a locality in the northern states and Canada, pale bluish-green (1.45x1.10).

Range. Breeds from the Gulf to Manitoba and Nova Scotia; winters in the Gulf States.


202. Xycticorax nycticorax nævius. 24 in.

Bill much heavier than that of the herons; neck and legs shorter and stouter; eye red; bill black; legs and bare space in front of eye, pale yellowish-green. Young birds are mottled with brownish-gray and white; eyes yellow. As their name implies, these herons do most of their feeding after dusk, sleeping during the greater part of the day. Their heronries are usually located in swamps, and preferably in coniferous trees. A visit to one of these is very interesting, but old clothes must be worn, for their homes are filthy. On your approach, the old birds flap away, and circle about with squawks of disapproval, and all the young birds commence a loud ticking noise, like what would be produced by hundreds of huge " grandfather's clocks."

Notes. A harsh "quark."

Nest. A platform of sticks; eggs pale bluish-green. (2.00x1.40).

Range. Breeds north to New Brunswick and Manitoba ; winters in the Gulf States and southward.


203. Nycianassa violacea. 23 in.

Like the last species, the head of this one is adorned with three long, rounded, white plumes; in life these plumes are rarely separated, but are nested together so that there appears to be but one. As dusk approaches, these birds sally out from their roosting or nesting places, and with slow, measured flaps, wing their way to their feeding grounds, which are usually fresh water bogs, teeming with animal and insect life. After dark the " quark " of Night Herons is frequently heard as the birds pass overhead, and they can very easily be decoyed by a crude imitation of their call. This species is principally confined to the South where it is found in heronries of its own kind, or in company with others.

Notes. Like those of the Black-crowned Night Heron.

Nest. A platform of sticks in trees, in swamps. 3 or 4 pale bluish-green eggs (2.00x1.40) ; May.

Range. Breeds north to South Carolina and Southern Illinois; later may stray farther north.