The tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor), formerly known as the Louisiana heron, is a small heron standing around two feet tall with a three foot wingspan. It is a resident breeder from the Gulf states and northern Mexico south through Central America and the Caribbean and parts of South America. When not nesting can be seen well north of the nesting range.
Tricolored heron's breeding habitat is sub-tropical swamps. It nests in colonies, often with other herons, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs and lays three to seven eggs. The nesting territory is selected by the male. Both the male and female build from February to May and incubate the nest, usually located in the shade of a tree or shrub. The chicks hatch in about three weeks. Both parents care for the chicks and feed them regurgitated food. The chicks fledge in a little over a month.
Adults have a blue-grey head, neck, back and upperwings, with a white line along the neck. The belly is white.
In breeding plumage, they have long blue plumes on the head and neck, and buff ones on the back. The beak, normally yellow, turns blue, the legs turn deep pink and the neck and shoulder feathers turn violet
The tricolored heron stalks its prey in shallow or deeper water. It eats fish, crustaceans, reptiles, and insects. Hunting strategies, include standing still, patiently waiting for prey to come within striking distance, and a running pursuit with the head held low to the water and the bill stabbed at prey with an almost horizontal action.
With the legs extended and the head drawn in to the shoulders, the tricolored heron flies using strong, steady wing beats. It usually travels alone but may occasionally fly in flocks. It rapidly descends from flight by partly folding its wings and rocking from side to side, in a manner similar to a falling leaf. Most tricolored herons migrate, with birds from southern and eastern USA migrating southwards to Central America and the Caribbean.
"Their profuse ordure [and] the decaying fish which fall from the nests make a heronry far from pleasant," remarked birdman-businessman Arthur Cleveland Bent in his monumental “Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds. “Alligators congregate near rookeries in the Deep South, gobbling not only doomed young, but raccoons intent on nest raids. The relationship is so mutually beneficial that when a commercial farm in Florida moved its 'gators to a new pond, the great blue herons that nested overhead moved with them. One huge wading bird colony at the mouth of the Suwannee River is notorious for its teeming and fat cottonmouths!”
Fishermen once believed that a heron's foot exuded oil that enticed fish within range of the bird's beak. A formula from the year 1740 for a witches' brew, Unguentum Piscatorum Mirable, to be smeared on fishing lines included heron's fat as well as cat's fat and "Man's fat [which] you may get of any surgeons who are concerned in anatomy."