Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron, Egret tricolor, Garza Tricolor (Spanish)

Wading birds use different feeding strategies to capture their prey. But I think the more-than-three-colors Tricolored Heron may win the prize for small fish foraging for 90% of its diet.  I’ve observed this medium-sized heron successfully use a variety of techniques in a predominantly coastal environment.

One “game plan” appears to fly low while tiptoeing or skimming along the surface to scare up critters.

2 Tiptoeing or skimming across the water surface

Also, it may stalk the target from the bank or in shallow water where it can also lunge or give chase. Variations include walking slowly, quickly, or running in both places. Or it could use a foot to stir or rake in the water. But wait, there’s more!

Stalking from shore
Lunge fishing technique of Tricolored Heron

Sometimes it appears to imitate the Reddish Egret, an acrobatic water prancer. Fish may be attracted to the shade provided by raised wings which also help with balance. And when the head is covered, perhaps it helps with the bird to spot its sushi meal. That dancing could stir up quarry too! Science refers to this type of foraging as canopy feeding.

Reddish Egret, Egretta rufescens, Garza Rojiza (Spanish), Chak bok (Mayan)
Tricolored Heron acrobatic fishing move

(I’ve got to mention that John J. Audubon called the Tricolored Heron “the Lady of the Waters,”   “delicate, beautiful, and graceful.” Doesn’t the above photo illustrate that? Okay, I digress.)

Recently I saw one Tricolored Heron do a series of belly flops with evidently great success. What surprised me was how deep the water was and how long it lingered after catching its prey in belly deep water.  However, it does tend to wade in deeper water than some other herons but usually up to the belly feathers.

Belly flopping Tricolored Heron
Fishing success of belly flopping Tricolored Heron

Many references relate to a study where the maximum forage depth of just over seven inches was based on a study of leg length. With a 3 foot wingspan and a body length of more than two feet, how surprised I was to see it repeatedly belly flop. Sometimes after one belly flop it continued to stay in the watery dinner table!

Combo belly flop and lunge of Tricolored Heron

Submerged body of Tricolored Heron
Another belly flop
One more time

Other Tricolored Herons also perform belly flops, but I’ve not observed them lingering there. I wonder if the heron I observed did believe that it was sick or injured. Yes, it was very active. Perhaps the water relieved whatever ailment it had if it had one. Or maybe it just improved upon a fishing strategy.

By the way, formerly called the Louisiana Heron, scientists believed this species to be the most abundant heron in Florida and the Southeast including Louisiana in the first half of the 20th century but now it seems to be in decline. It is a common resident of the Yucatán Peninsula along with a winter migratory population.


DISCLAIMER: References do not agree or may have not updated recent information.

Sal a Pajarear Yucatán(Guía de Aves); Birds and Reserves of the Yucatán Peninsula. A Guide to Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America , The Joys of Bird Watching in Florida by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Common Coastal Birds of Florida and the Caribbean

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her monthly column features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and also wildlife beyond the Yucatan.

Contact:  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo