This Little Blue Heron is making no secret about being ready to breed.
The color blue permeates our culture. Boys are blue, girls are pink. Winners receive blue ribbons, and we hope the stocks we purchase are blue chip. Blue is patriotic: 64 countries have the color blue in their flags; and it is the color of royalty, as royals are called “blue bloods.” Blue is the color of sadness or melancholy; but it is also the color of happiness, expressed with “blue skies” and the “bluebird of happiness.” It is the color of cold, as in “blue ice,” whereas your hot water tap will be marked red. It is the color of hard work as “blue-collar workers” perform many of our most strenuous tasks. And it is found throughout our music from “It will be a blue Christmas without you…,” to “Blue skies smiling at me…,” to Blue Moon and Mood Indigo. You get the idea.
It is included in the first word of the names of 12 North American bird species, not counting the Indigo and Lazuli Buntings, or the Black-throated Blue Warbler, or the Great Blue or Little Blue Herons. But for this writing, blue is the color of love, both for humans and birds. Brides wear “Something old; something new; something borrowed and something Blue,” while some birds sport the color blue to announce their readiness for the serious business of mating and passing on their genes.
This realization hit me after a lifetime of birding when, at Wakodahatchee, a Great Blue Heron (left and right) in all its obvious mate attracting grandeur, presented a close-up of its bill, sporting bright blue eye lores, a feature not present during the rest of the year. While this late discovery came as a surprise to me, I then remembered that Little Blue Herons and Tri-colored Herons (top, right) have the same bright blue lores and base of the bill when ready for breeding.
Reddish Egrets (below, right) display their desire for love by changing the color of their legs from black to blue. Anhingas ( left) don’t really get a deep blue around the eye when trying to attract a mate, but that turquoise, only present for a few weeks when ready for love, is certainly close to blue. And the Cattle Egret (bottom, left) , while showing a brownishorange on its head, back and breast to signal readiness for action, also develops a lovely shade of lavender between its eyes and the reddish bill that also has changed from its usual year round yellow.
All of these examples of birds wearing a “bridal - something blue” are obviously herons, or, in the case of the Anhinga, a closely related water bird. I haven’t yet checked to see if this blue color is prominent in other breeding species, but the blue bill of the breeding Ruddy Duck is obviously one other possible example. We also know that most species don their finest feathery when setting up breeding territories.
While we all love to anthropomorphize birds to show our close connection to them, it is true that we humans have more in common with our feathered brethren than one might realize. I sometimes wonder if birds could add words to some of their beautiful songs, we wouldn’t hear their version of Blue Skies. Of course, hearing the normal squawks and sounds of most herons would not lend itself to that theory, but then again, we don’t know what the female of the species is hearing. Maybe it’s like the sweet nothings that some tone deaf, hoarse males may be whispering in the ear of some star struck females of the human species. Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s just another version of Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. (Here by Crystal Gayle - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udEZ_JjNz4E) (1/30/14)