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Heron of the Everglades

By C.M.Shorter
Florida Everglades
Common Heron
Florida Everglades Common Heron
Pictures of Common Herons

The Florida Everglades is home to many species of Heron. Their are 16 species of wading birds remaining in the Everglades and they have similar features. They are all swift, silent hunters living mostly on aquatic prey. They typically stand for long periods in the waterways on their long, lanky legs searching for their next meal. The most famous of the heron species is the largest wading bird in the Everglades, the Great Blue Heron. Naturalists report however the most common bird sighted here is the White Ibis. Next in sighting frequency is the Green-Backed Heron. There are also nocturnal species of Heron, for those of you who are diligent nature observers or just lucky you may get to see a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron or Black-Crowned Night Heron.

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One of the most beautiful nature scenes to witness is a flock of Heron flying in formation, or gliding in gently to land upon their chosen roost against the backdrop of a spectacular Florida sunset. It is quite a site to watch the birds settling in which often is accompanied by an array of noisy squawking and branch positioning while they vie for favored spots. The close symbiotic relationship between the animals of the Everglades is never more apparent that when one witnesses first hand these fragile birds making their nest and home in the mangrove swamps above the waterways patrolled by alligators and crocodiles. While it appears a BIT dangerous at first, these ancient aquatic predators actually serve to protect the nesting wading birds and their young from many other potentially dangerous predators - i.e. raccoons, tree snakes etc.

It is interesting to note that at one time the Great White Heron (the white form of the Great Blue Heron) was called the "American Egret" but the name was changed because their range extends far beyond America. Heron, like many of the wading birds prefer coastal marshland and wetland habitats and are known to have an extended range from southern Canada to Mexico, into South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

It was these spectacular birds, particularly the Egret and Heron, that were hunted by the thousands by plume traders who raided the Everglades. The commercial hunters relied on the annual migratory nesting cycle to take the largest quantity of adults from these breeding grounds. They amassed large fortunes with plumes worth literally twice their weight in gold while the young birds were left to die in the nest. Needless to say. this played double jeopardy with the bird populations suffering and conservationists took action.

This annual slaughter came to a screeching halt with passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which replaced the Lacey Act of 1900 prohibiting interstate shipment of the many birds hunted annually. The early legislation to protect these animals was weak, much like the anti-poaching campaigns in place today to save the Tiger. Profits were high in the illegal markets, protective funds were low and there was a lack of trained wildlife officers to enforce the laws. The Weeks-McLean Law followed in 1913 governing a broader spectrum of water fowl including all wild geese, wild swans, wild ducks, snipe, plover, woodcock, rail, wild pigeons and all other migratory game who did not stay within the borders of any one state offering them the full protection of the Government of the United States. However, it was based on weak constitutional grounds and was replaced with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This U.S. domestic law affirms our commitment to four conventions made with then Britain (for Canada), Japan, Mexico and Russia (then the Soviet Union) to protect shared migratory bird resources common to each country for listed birds during the course of their annual migratory life cycles.

Thankfully, due to these conservation efforts we can still see today the remaining species of birds in the Egret and Heron families throughout their historic range. From the Little Blue Heron to the Great Blue Heron, and even the Tri-Colored Heron, they each have their own unique contributions to the bird species living among us now in our modern world of shared precious natural resources.

More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
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