Common Birds of Louisiana


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Pelican BROWN PELICAN

Pelecanus occidentalis

Almost every person in Louisiana is familiar with the Brown Pelican. It is the state bird and is also found on the state seal. Perhaps the reason it was chosen is because of the great protection it gives its young. The old story goes that the female tore open her breast to feed her voting. This, of course, is fiction. The female does, however, regurgitate her food into her throat to feed them. When the young reach down into the throat to get it, it perhaps does seem as if they would tear her breast open.

Years ago anyone who saw the large graceful birds flying along the coast can still remember the impressive sight. The great flocks flew in a "V" shape, flapping their wings together and soaring in unison. The wing spread is about six feet.

The bill, eighteen inches long and six inches deep, is used in catching and holding fish. Sometimes a Laughing Gull will watch a Pelican fishing. N"en it comes up with a fish, the gull lights on its bill. As soon as the Pelican opens its mouth, as it has to do to get rid of the water it got when it caught the fish, the gull reaches in, grabs the fish, and flies off, probably leaving the Pelican quite bewildered. Contrary to popular belief, the Pelican does not carry food in its pouch.

These birds once nested mostly on islands along the coast in colonies of many thousands. Their nests are bulky structures of large sticks placed in mangrove trees or on the ground. Two or three large eggs are laid.

The Pelican eats fish, but not the ones that are caught by fishermen for food. Gulf sardines and menhaden are the fish most commonly consumed by Pelicans.

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Cattle Egret CATTLE EGRET

Bubulcits ibis

The Cattle Egret is a small white heron that was originally found only in Africa, Asia and Europe. The Cattle Egret introduced itself to North America, migrating over the ocean. It was first observed in North America in 1922 in Florida.

The first sightings in Louisiana were in 1955. They can now be found statewide. Tens of thousands of Cattle Egrets nest in rookeries in North and South Louisiana each year.

Cattle Egrets resemble Snowy Egrets and Immature Little Blue Herons in size and coloration. The feathers are white, with darker feathers on the head and lower back. The body is stout and usually more erect than other egrets or herons. he Cattle Egret has a short thick bill that is yellow or yellow orange in color. Their legs change from dark, to greenish yellow to red as the seasons change from spring to summer to winter. The summer red legs indicate that the birds are in the breeding season.

Long necked white birds, either perched on cattle or walking around the pasture close to cows are usually Cattle Egrets. Some- times Immature Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets are found around cows, but not with the frequency of Cattle Egrets.

The Cattle Egrets feed on the insects that the cows stir up in pastureland and have been observed pecking an insect off a cow's body.

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Snowy Egret SNOWY EGRET

Leucophoyx thula

Snowy Egret: Here it is shown caring for the young.

This beautiful white bird is a permanent resident of Louisiana, wintering along the coast. The bill and legs are black, the toes yellow, and the space around the eyes greenish-yellow. The long white plumes on the head and back, present during the breeding season, are perhaps the most beautiful parts of this bird. The food consists of small fish. The young are fed by regurgitation, as are a great many other young birds.

Mangroves and swampy willow ponds furnish the proper habitat for the nesting colonies. The nests are built of rough sticks and lined with marsh vegetation and rootlets. Two to five pale bluish-green eggs are laid.

The American Egret is a much larger bird but very closely related to the Snowy Egret. However, it has a yellow bill and black legs and toes. This bird is often incorrectly called the White Crane.

Not very many years ago these lovely birds were nearing extinction. It was all the fad for women to wear aigrettes, the plumes of the Egret, in their hats. To obtain these, adult nesting birds had to be killed. These were slaughtered in huge numbers, leaving the helpless young to suffer and die. Before the last Egrets were killed the Federal government passed laws making it illegal to wear or to sell the plumes.

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