A Little Blue Over The Holidays

Happy new year to all!  What better way for Peace River Wildlife Center to start a new year than with some new additions to our resident animal ambassadors?  We now have a little blue heron in our shorebird habitat, and we are quite happy about it.  (Upcoming articles will detail other new residents.)

The little blue heron is a small to medium sized bird.  It is unique in that the juvenile is a completely different colour than the adult.  For the first year of its life, the little blue has white feathers on its body and yellow-green legs.  This age-related colour morph helps the youngsters to blend in with the other birds while it hangs out with a flock of snowy egrets.  The snowys are less likely to attack the interloper because it looks so much like their own offspring.

The all-white little blue benefits by being able to find more food than a solitary juvenile would.  The egrets often display a frenetic energy when foraging for food.  They will thrash about with wings spread and run back and forth in the shallows to stir up prey.  The little blue in contrast, will stand still with head held just above the water’s edge and dart down to grab a small fish or amphibian as it swims by.  Another advantage to this arrangement is the decreased chance of being picked off by a predator in the midst of a congregation of egrets than a lone bird would have.

At its first molt darker blue feathers start to appear in a patchwork of colour, giving it a tie-dyed appearance.  When mature the bird will have a slate blue body, purplish head, yellow eyes and greenish grey legs.  The little blue’s colours have been described as moody blues, from which her name, Sojourn, has been derived.  (Seventh Sojourn was the Moody Blues’ 7th album for those of you who were born too early or late to know anything about good music and don’t get that obscure reference.)

The adult little blue will be a solitary bird until breeding season, when it will nest in groups of other little blues at the edges of egret colonial breeders’ rookeries.  An interesting note about the feet of a little blue—it has teeth-like structures along the edge of the long middle toe that it uses like a comb during grooming.  This is called a pectinate toe and is found in a few other members of the egret/heron/bittern family.  Also oddly enough barn owls and night hawks have these structures although in many other ways they are they quite dissimilar species.

Webster’s (oh, who am I kidding—Wikipedia, does anyone pick up a dusty old paper dictionary anymore?) defines sojourn as a temporary stay.  Our little Sojourn arrived at PRWC as a transfer from the Wildlife Center of Venice.  She had suffered a broken wing that healed, but left her unable to fly well enough to be released.  After her temporary stays in the wild and at WCV we hope that she will be with us here at PRWC for a good long time.  Stop by from 11a.m. to 4p.m. to see this colourful new addition to our family and the over 100 other birds on display daily at PRWC.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Little blue heron in the wild
Little blue heron in the wild
Sojourn, PRWC's little blue
Sojourn, PRWC’s little blue