Winding down…Part 2.
By: Sabrina Cobb
The least tern breeding colony mentioned in “Return of the least terns” is approaching the final week of nesting. Olivia and I visited the location three times last week and each time we have only documented six adults with four chicks. Two of the chicks are almost covered in new feathers and the other two should be flight-capable by the start of this week. The adults have not been nearly as defensive as when the chicks first hatched. It seems like only yesterday these birds arrived here in Alabama and now they are heading back to their non-breeding grounds in South and Central America. This site is now our last active least tern colony for the season.
Even though most of the least terns have left, there are still a lot of other species present taking advantage of the sites’ resource abundance. We recently discovered a family of green herons foraging along side one of the many ponds located on the property.
Green herons are a small, stocky heron with a sharp spear-like beak. Adult green herons have glossy dark green feathers on their head and back, while their chest is brown. One of the most striking features of the bird is their bright orange feet and legs. Juvenile birds still have the dark feathers on the head, but their plumage is more mottled with white and brown. Legs on the chicks are yellow instead of orange. These waders prefer marsh habitat or areas with lots of vegetation and water access. Green herons will hunt small fish by crouching down on a rock or log waiting for the moment to strike!
Unlike a lot of other herons and egret species, green herons are usually solitary nesters. They build their nests out of sticks in trees or shrubs near a water source. They typically lay 3-5 eggs and incubation takes on average 21 days. Once the chicks hatch, parents will feed them by regurgitation for about two weeks and then by bringing them small fish and invertebrates. Chicks will usually be able to leave the nest around 3-4 weeks after hatching.
Green herons are listed as moderate conservation concern here in Alabama. This year, Alabama Audubon started a green heron monitoring project to gain a better understanding of how development and disturbance pressures influence habitat use and reproductive success. Alabama Audubon is working on banding individual birds to learn more about their habitat use, movements, and nesting preferences. Results from this study will be used to help inform urban planners and develop conservation plans for green herons in Alabama.
If you are interested in helping with this project, you can find more information on our website: https://alaudubon.org/greenherons/