What snowy white heron also has a blue Christmas? The little blue heron, which spends its first year outfitted in pure white. Taking about two years to completely transition from this snowy youth, their feathers molt into a piebald or calico fashion as they morph into the slate grey-blue of adulthood.
Easily mistaken for several other types of herons while in those white feathers, their penchant for mixing in with similarly-sized snowy egrets can make it a bit tricky to discern the difference. A quick review of their bill and legs can help you figure out which heron you’re viewing.
Juvenile little blue herons have greenish-yellow legs and feet, whereas snowy egrets have black legs ending in yellow snowshoe feet. Little blues also have a two-tone grayish bill that ends in a black tip, while snowy egrets have an all-black bill.
You can also differentiate them by their slow, methodical stalking and patient stillness as they wait for prey. Feeding on small fish in freshwater ponds and streams, they will readily eat frogs and insects, too. Found throughout Florida, you should be easily able to spot one anywhere herons are typically seen.
Adult little blues seem to enjoy various retention ponds around our region and typically they will be alone, silently stalking the shallows. Look for them in the ponds adjacent to the Lakeshore Mall, behind Sun ‘N Lake subdivision or even in the numerous chained off retention areas around local parking lots.
As they mature, not only do their feathers change dramatically from white to slate, but their heads and necks gain a lovely purplish hue. This can be difficult to see unless they are in bright light though. Usually they appear as a dark mid-sized heron.
Sporting just a few long plumes in breeding season, their lack of fancy feathering equaled safety to their populations in the thankfully bygone era of plume hunting.
Preferring nesting locations tucked away in sheltered trees, they will nest with other heron species. Choosing sites over water provides additional protection from predators and like all nesting birds they are easily disturbed by human encroachment. It is very important to never approach areas where birds can be seen nesting as they may abandon the young or eggs.
We are so fortunate to have an abundance of bird life in our area that can be easily seen on a daily basis. Enjoy the snowy herons of Florida and see how many you can tick off your list before the end of the year.