Every year members of the Ardeidae family fly from as far away
as Argentina to spend much of their summer fishing and enjoying
the water at Greenwich Point. And if you walk the perimeter of
the Point, you probably pass them by regularly - for they are the
medium-sized to large wading birds that include the
night-herons, bitterns, herons and egrets.
With long legs and necks, these wading birds are well adapted to their aquatic habitat. All ardeids are carnivorous and use their bills to spear and grasp prey, which at the Point are found in abundance in the tidal marsh and shallow waters along the shore. The classic S-shaped curve of the neck is due to a special adaptation of the sixth vertebra, which allows the bird to move the head and bill forward with a speedy lunge to grab its unsuspecting prey.
Largest Ardeid's Rookery in CT
Greenwich Point is a particularly important feeding area for these birds because of its proximity to the birds' communal nesting site on Great Captain's Island, recently considered to be the largest rookery for ardeids in the state. Over 300 Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-herons were counted on the island about a decade ago, although more recent counts have seen a decline to a third of that number.
Spring Brings Changes
The Point is also an excellent spot to observe the physical changes in the birds that take place during breeding season. During this time of year, the all-white Snowy and Great Egrets sport long plumes (aigrettes) on the head, neck and wings, displayed during courtship. Black-crowned Night-herons also develop long, white pointed plumes. The plumes and even whole birds were popular fashion in the late 19th century, when early conservationists began to take note of population declines and protest the slaughter by market hunters. Now the migratory birds are federally protected. Other changes take place on the birds legs, bills and other bare parts as colors grow most intense during breeding season.
Summer 2009 Newsletter
The Ardeidae Family Vacation at Greenwich Point
By Cynthia Ehlinger
Photo by Debra Bender