There’s something special about wading birds, like the Herons and the Egrets (members of the same specie family). Elegant, graceful, poetic in flight.
And then there’s their feathers. Ken Burns, in his National Park PBS series and DVD provides telling information about our fashionable ladies’ quest for Egret and Heron feathers for their bonnets around the turn of the 20th century. By 1900, 95% of these well-feathered Florida’s birds had been eradicated, killed for their plumes, their contribution to high society’s fondness for feathered hats. During those glamorous times 5 million birds were killed each year to feed this fashion habit. Year after year, the millinery industry, primarily in New York, defeated protective legislation. Finally, the Lacey Bird and Game Act of 1900 provided protection for these elegant birds. However, compliance with the law was not swift, and 5 years after its passage, an Audubon Society game warden was killed in Florida by plume hunters, driven to keep the demand for plumage profitable and alive. The continuing plundering of these birds led to Teddy Roosevelt establishing Florida’s Pelican Island as a refuge, and, ultimately, the Everglades was established as a national park. Today, they are also protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Florida law.
An adult Great Blue Heron can reach about 4 feet in height. The Great Egret is smaller but adults can top 3 feet. In contrast, the adult Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron and Reddish Egret are each smaller. Their habitats include the coastal beaches, salt marshes, mangroves, swamps, and marshlands.
Egrets and Herons are “colonial nesting birds.” They colonize in large on-shore gatherings or communities during their nesting season. Thus, to survive, they need a lot of healthy wetlands and nesting sites, both disappearing parts of Florida’s environment.
Their positive use of the wetland also depends upon the water level, water depth and fluctuation of tidal levels, so changing sea levels also affect their habitat. A study of the long-term effect of currently rising waters in Gulf of Mexico estuaries, including Tampa Bay, was started in October 2010 by the Nature Conservancy.
There has been some specie recovery over these past 100 years since plume-hunting has become illegal. But their numbers never fully recovered, and the risk for the species remains, primarily because of nesting and habitat loss related to our population explosion.
Florida includes the Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron and Tricolored Heron on its endangered list, as species of “special concern.“ An informative site to learn more about nature in Florida and our birds is Florida Nature.
From January 14, 2011 through March 13, 2011, the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, will have an important exhibition, Disappearing Florida. I will be privileged to be a participating photo-artist along with Carlton Ward, Jr., Kevin Boldenow, and Laurie Excell. Week-long photography courses will also be taught by Laurie Excell and Joel Sartore of the National Geographic Society, author of Rare, a book about disappearing species. Over the next several weeks, we will continue our look at Disappearing Florida. This is the fifth in the series.