Big birds in the rice fields
What are those skinny birds in the rice fields? And what are they eating?
• Common egret — This tall (39 inches long) all-white bird has a yellow bill and black feet. These birds are often seen alone or in small groups.
• Snowy egret — This shorter (24 inches) all white bird has a black bill and yellow feet. These birds are usually seen in groups of 10 or more.
• Great blue heron - This tall (46 inches) bluish-gray bird is generally a solitary bird known for the stealthy, slow way it has of moving its head or legs as it moves toward the prey.
• Black crowned night heron — This 25 inch long bird has a black head cap and back, and white breast. Except when feeding young, the night heron is a nocturnal forager. It will leave the roost at dusk to hunt for prey.
White-faced ibis — This 22 inch long bird appears black in color with white color around the face. The bill is curved slightly downward. In the late 1990's there were few ibis in the Central Valley.
Due to better water supplies at some of the public waterfowl areas, ibis numbers have increased a hundred fold or more and they can be seen frequently flying overhead or probing the rice fields.
All of these birds are looking for a wide variety of water-based prey including small fish, crayfish, frogs, tadpoles and small snakes. The great blue heron is also often seen hunting the fields for gophers, mice, grasshoppers and insects.
The egrets, herons, and ibis are colonial nesters, that is, they nest together in colonies. Sometimes several nests will be in a single tree or a group of adjacent trees near water. The ibis nest over water in dense tules and cattails.
The great blue herons and common egret usually nest together in the tops of tall trees. The snowy egret and the black crown night heron often nest in shorter trees or sometimes on the tops of a berry thicket.
The black crowns are sometimes found in urban back yards at the top of dense trees. Small colonies of a dozen nests have been found in Live Oak and Chico. For the nature enthusiast, a black crown colony in your back yard can be a special opportunity, though the amount of bird droppings can be overwhelming.
A-D columnist Dale Whitmore has been a wildlife biologist for 32 years. You can reach him at 743-5068 or at email@example.com.