2021-04-27 SPI and Tuesday’s Babies

Green Heron - Butorides virescens
When I last visited the SPI Birding and Nature Center (2021-04-08), I saw Green Herons sitting on eggs. I wanted to return and see how the families were doing.
Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias
Great Blue Herons take on some pretty large fish when on the hunt. Having finished with the Great Texas Birding Classic on Sunday, I was eager to return to South Padre Island, where I knew Green Herons were raising families at the Bird and Nature Center.

Earlier in April, I visited the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center and saw Green Herons sitting on eggs. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to return and see how the next generation of Green Herons was coming along. This past Tuesday I took the time to revisit the SPIB&NC and was not disappointed. Not only were some of the nest sprouting babies, I got to watch some feedings. As a bonus, I also found baby Common Gallinules.

Fuzzy babies in pinfeathers greeted me as I first entered the boardwalk. These awkward, gangly babies were but embryos in pale blue shells when last I saw them. Now they were wide-eyed, curious, hungry and growing fast. There seemed to be a half dozen nests spread out on the Black Mangrove trees and nearby Honey Mesquite. Some nests had babies, some were unattended, and some had parents sitting tight, hesitant to uncover their treasures.

I observed the nests with the biggest babies at length. It seemed to me one parent stayed with the chicks while the other went fishing. On returning from foraging, the attendant parent received the catch of the day, then sent the fishing parent away to gather more groceries. Then the attending parent distributed the bounty among the three hungry chicks. Herons don’t chew their food, and I saw multiple meals distributed to the babies between the fishing expeditions. I believe the fishing parent passed several small fish to the attending parent after each foraging episode.

I didn’t spend all my time with the nesting herons. Only our ability to observe can limit the possibilities for meeting species in the marsh along the boardwalk. A friend told me she saw baby Common Gallinules here earlier in the morning. It took me a while, but late in the afternoon I found them. Had the parents not been in attendance, I’d have thought I was seeing baby coots.

Unlike duck parents, these birds seemed to share child-rearing duties. I couldn’t tell how many babies were in the brood. Each parent took a few of their offspring with them on foraging expeditions and later reassembled the family group. Mom and Dad kept their young near to the cattail margins and avoided open water. The babies followed their parents as best they could, but they always returned to the protection the marsh edges provided if its parent ventured too far.

I read somewhere that coots often lay their eggs in a neighbor’s nest. If the trespassed parent pays attention, they will notice the red-headed babies in her care age out of the red phase at different time intervals. Often the parent will shun the baby who ages later or before the rest of her brood. I wondered if the same might be true for their close relatives, the gallinules.

When I finished by day’s shooting, I’d collected images of American Redstart, Black Skimmer, Caspian Tern, Common Gallinule, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Little Blue Heron, Magnolia Warbler, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-Winged Blackbird, Scarlet Tanager, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, and Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

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