An adult Little Blue Heron stalks prey in the open waters of a Florida marsh. This is rather extroverted behavior; Little Blues often are inconspicuous, hunting from the shady verges of wetlands and waterways.
On my recent trip to the Sunshine State, I logged eleven species in the Ardeidae, or heron family, and most of them in good numbers. Many of these lanky-legged, dagger-billed, plume-bearing beasts are among the most conspicuous of Florida birds. Even the most casual observer of nature notices them.
Not so much the Little Blue Heron.
The name "Little Blue Heron" somewhat diminishes the true pizazz of this beautiful species. It suggests subservience to the - in the U.S. - much more widespread and commonly seen Great Blue Heron. The two are different as night and day.
Little Blue Herons are in the genus Egretta, which includes some of the world's truly gorgeous small herons. In the United States, discounting three species of major rarities that have strayed to our shores, the Egretta ranks include Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, and the subject of this post.
Of these four herons, I would say that the Little Blue is rather overshadowed by its more extroverted brethren. Snowy Egrets, with their electric white plumage replete with billowy plumes and golden slippers for feet, can't be missed. Tricolored Heron and Reddish Egret are the gonzo madmen of the heron world, often dashing about maniacally and tenting the waters with outspread wings to lure fish to the shade and their death.
The Little Blue Heron is typically reserved and methodical, slowly stalking quiet waters in search of minnows, crayfish, frogs or nearly anything else that is small and moves. Adults are stunning upon close inspection: the body is of a uniform rich slaty-blue that contrasts with a lustrous purple neck and head. The swordlike bill is powdery chalk at the base, but is dark-tipped as if the bird had gone fishing in a can of black paint.
First-year Little Blues look utterly different. They're white, and easily confused with other species of white herons and often are.
I spent much time with the fellow above, observing his behavior and actions at near fingertip range. The heron cared not a whit and would not take his eyes off the water, even when he would practically walk over my feet. He was on the hunt, you see, and a hunting Little Blue Heron is a study in absolute, impeccable concentration.
The Little Blue would ever so gently stalk the margins of this canal, slowly lifting and placing its size EEE feet like a boy trying to walk through a leaf-littered forest without making sound. Never did it divert those magnificent eyes from the task at hand, constantly bobbing, craning and tilting for new perspectives.
When prey was locked in on, POW! Forget about it. With an explosive uncoiling of that strong springlike neck, the heron would thrust its bill forward in a split second like an archer releasing an arrow. Whatever was the object of its desire probably never knew what hit it, its fate soon to be expulsion as guano after the heron's system extracted the good stuff.