Sunday, May 9, 2021

Great Blue Heron, with ornamental plumes


A Great Blue Heron, a very common wading bird and a species all of us are undoubtedly familiar with.

It's never productive to get jaded to common birds, though, as many birders seem to. For a relatively brief period in spring, during breeding season, Great Blue Herons grow spectacular ornamental plumes. The effect is quite astonishing when seen well. A bit over a century ago, the ornamental plumes of egrets and herons were so coveted by the millinery trade that shooters nearly extinguished some egret species, and did great damage to populations of herons such as the Great Blue Heron. All, or primarily so, for adornments for women's hats. The National Audubon Society formed over efforts to protect wading birds from wanton shooting for utterly frivolous purposes. You can read a brief history of that story RIGHT HERE.

I stumbled across this bird sitting on a dock in late afternoon light last Friday in Lucas County (Ohio), along Lake Erie. It was irresistible to spend some photographic time with the gorgeous bird, trying to capture those elegant plumes. The nuptial plumes are of three types, all visible here. The black pin plumes projecting from the back of the head are called occipital plumes. The soft plumes on the wings are known as scapular plumes. And the elegant wispy plumes that form a beard of sorts on the heron's breast are pectoral plumes.

The Great Blue Heron was a spark bird for many birders, myself included. If you're interested, you can find my brief essay about "Modern Day Pterodactyls" and their influence on me as a boy RIGHT HERE.

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