Monday, June 6, 2016

Too Many Birds!

Only kidding, there is never too many birds. Currently, a bird rookery that I have been visiting for eight years is in full throttle nesting activity. This rookery is primarily brown pelicans and great white egrets. Over the years, I have observed this rookery's ups and downs; some years seemed to do much better than others; at least if you go by numbers. In this regard, this year has proven to be the most successful with the greatest number of nests seen.

The rookery consists of several small mangrove islands within an area about half the size of a football field. Right now, if you sit in a canoe and look squarely at one of the largest mangrove islands, you will notice about 8 to 10 nests that are obvious because of the large size of the chicks. If you sit there long enough, you will notice that their are about twice that many nests, only the chicks are much smaller and less obvious. Sometimes you don't see it until an adult flies in and you may catch a glimpse of a young one's beak pointing upward toward momma. Here's one image of an area of the mangroves where the brown pelican has staked its claim. There are at least three nests in view. As with almost all of the images presented here, this one is cropped to isolate the birds.

Great white egret and pelican chicks grow very quickly and before a chick fledges, it looks very much like an adult in size. Typically, I see two or three chicks to a nest, but this year, I have spotted a few nests with as many as four chicks. There is a scientific  hypothesis called "brood reduction" that helps explain why not all chicks survive the nest. I wrote about it five years ago and you can read that here. So when I observe these nests, it is with the knowledge that not all of them will make it to the fledgling stage. What I look for is an adult that flies into her (or his) nest to feed the waiting chicks. When this happens, the chicks become very active, wings flapping, beaks open and attempting to reach mom. I look for a scene that gives a clear view of the the birds' beaks and eyes, such as the two below.

I also look for some wing spread, particularly from the adult that stands over her chicks, such as this scene. I like to see the sun light on the underside of those wings as well.

It is basically nesting chaos right now and attempting to capture that cleanly has proven to be nearly impossible. When chicks are being fed, it can be a confusing scene of feathers and beaks. For example, here's a mom attempting to feed one of her chicks while the other two look on.  The next image illustrates two pelican chicks being feed. It is always the case that one chick is fed at a time, so imagine the competition. There is almost always a dominate chick, a middle one and a smaller one that seems to always hang in the background.

I prefer a clear background, so I look for the highest sitting nests where I can get the sky behind the bird, unlike the two images above. Here's an example of a penthouse nest. I also try to avoid lots of foreground branches and leaves that will compete with the action.

Another view I try to capture are the wings of the chicks as they exercise their wings. In between feedings, the nestlings are often moving around in the nest. They may begin venturing farther away from the nest and start flapping their wings as a strengthening exercise, such as this little one.

Here's one showing a nest with some fuzzy chicks in the foreground. One of them was quite active and I tried to capture its wings, but this is about as good as it got. You can't see them here but there are brown pelicans all around, plus the two larger chicks in the background. I waited for the brown pelicans to settle down behind the mangroves; but isolating the little chick with a wing spread was a test.

Regardless of the frustration that comes with attempting to photograph nesting egrets and pelicans, I continue to visit them as often as I can. Sometimes, I put my camera away and simply watch. If that is all I can do, I will be happy. Happy to see the birds thriving.


  1. Great article and photos, Connie. Lots of good hints here.


  2. Thanks Ed! I still have to get up to your area!