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Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny
The roseate spoonbills (Ajaia ajaja) nest among the dense moss-hung cypresses by the lagoons and bayous near the Gulf Coast. The birds dwell near together on flat nests built with sticks of considerable size, and lay their three or four eggs about the first of June. Previous to nesting, the old birds pass through their spring molt, after which they are arrayed in a plumage of beautiful carmine and white, in marked contrast with the dark green of the cypress
Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny
The beautiful little snowy egrets (Egretta candidissima candidissima) were once common throughout the Gulf region, but they have fallen before the hunters of "aigrettes" for the millinery trade until now the species is on the verge of extinction. The snowy egrets start nesting late in March,, building their nests in remote marshes or on the margins of lakes and ponds. Mr. McIlhenny started "Avery Heronry" with eight of these egrets on a little pond artificially prepared for them. The birds have become much attached to their nesting place, and return to the heronry year after year to enjoy its protection
Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny
The Louisiana heron (Hydranassa tricolor ruficollis) is the most common wader in the South. This long-necked and long-legged bird, with its beautiful colors-and its harsh squawks-nests in various heronries throughout the state and on many of the mangrove islands bordering the gulf. Being very pugnacious, it is almost a pest in some of the heronries, for it tends to drive out the more gentle snowy egret
used to be their great slaughter ground, from which fact it derived its name; for the old-timers would say, "If you want to give the geese hell, go to the gravel hole!" Now the birds may gravel in safety. For "Hell Hole" is included among the protected areas.
But if the geese are numerous, there is no word to describe the numbers of ducks that sometimes crowd these sanctuaries. Yet even with such numbers during migration, spread them over the country, as at other times of the year, and we have only too few.
Off the Louisiana coast are the famous breeding islands of the birds. A few years ago the boatmen plundered the colonies as they pleased, taking the eggs and killing the beautiful terns for their wings. Some species became so scarce as to be almost extinct in this region, but now the birds are swarming once again on these shell keys, the thousands of flashing wings lending their beauty and breaking the monotony of the wide stretches of salt marsh and shimmering gulf.
It would be hard to estimate the number of breeding birds on the islands for their habits are so varied. Close in among the salt grasses are the forktailed Forster's terns. These active little fellows build their nests on the dead grass piled high by the tide; and the black-headed laughing gulls and least terns find comradeship with them. Too numerous to count are the Cabot, royal, and Caspian terns nesting on the outer shell keys.
The Cabot tern is my favorite, for he is more fearless, more unconcerned, and seems to take better care of his youngsters than the other species. When we approached the Cabots, they stretched their necks to full length, with crest erect, and protested at the tops of their voices. If we came too near, they rose and drifted gracefully away, and then circled in from behind and fluttered down to protect their babies from the hot sun. One tern I watched did her best to coax her little one over the rim of the beach toward the water's edge. She would go ahead a few steps, teasing
OBSERVATIONS ON THE WATER BIRDS OF LOUISIANA
and scolding, and then go back again as though out of patience with the wayward offspring.
Terns are ideal birds to study and photograph from a blind. They sail back to their eggs within a few feet of the photographer almost before he has had time to conceal himself. At first
they are very suspicious and stand at "attention," but they soon lose their caution and devote themselves to their domestic duties.
Skimmers, too, nest on these islands by the thousands. These grotesque birds stalk solemnly along the shell keys, whole flocks of them together, their black colors gleaming in striking contrast with the sea and the sky, and their white underparts blending harmoni
ously with the light shell of the ground, so that their elongated form and bill seem all the more out of proportion.
Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny The adults of the little blue herons (Florida cærulea) are dark blue, but their young are white and easily mistaken for the young of the snowy egrets. All stages of plumage are found between the adult and young, the birds of mixed colors being known locally as "crazy herons" or "calico birds" (see page 67). The herons are timorous and seclusive and their rookeries are always in the wildest and most inaccessible places. The species is still very abundant in different parts of Louisiana
The skimmers receive their name from their habit of skimming the water for food. Whole strings of them may be seen darting along, their lower mandibles cleaving the surface. They
are particularly active at dusk and I believe they are more or less nocturnal for I have seen them about at all hours of the night.
The young are fuzzy little fellows and have a habit of "taking to their heels" immediately they see anyone, but they crouch down when cornered and depend upon their gray coloration to protect them. They can make a little pit in the sand in no time by using
their feet and breast, and when so crouching they will allow one even to step on them.
Then there are the clumsy-looking pelicans which have so aroused the wrath of the fishermen recently along the Gulf Coast. The largest colony of brown pelicans in the country is at the mouth of the Mississippi River on the United States Bird Reservation locally called "Mud Lumps." These lumps themselves are of geologic interest because of their peculiar formation, being squeezed up from under the river bottom by pressure beneath. Here fifty thousand pelicans nest with their thousands of downy young and make the "lumps" one of the most interesting places in the world.
The young when first hatched resemble little black India-rubber balls, and are extremely sensitive to the sun and therefore constantly sheltered by their parents. In a few days the white. down appears and the rookery is then white as a cotton field. As soon as the youngsters are able to paddle about, they keep their parents busy fishing in order to satisfy their enormous appetites. Then there is a continuous arrival of old birds from afar; a long string of birds flying with methodically timed strokes,-a few strong beats and then a coast, each bird following the wing strokes of the leader and all scaling so close to the water that it seems they must strike the surface at every beat. And what excitement there is among the young when the old birds arrive! The white fellows follow after with anxious begging cries; the parent bird opens wide her bill and disgorges the fish, while the youngster anticipates its arrival by thrusting his head down the old bird's throat. It is amusing to see a heavy young one, weighing more than the adult, feeding this way, and the more they receive the more they beg. They flop their wobbly wings and jerk their heads back and forth, blinking their eyes, and staggering about.
They often receive so many fish that the tail of the last remains in sight, and when an extra large fish is taken, its course can be followed down the skinny neck. Often they become so gorged that they sprawl over on their breasts, or flop over on their backs with feet extended in the air. At first when I walked around the rookery, I thought these stuffed fellows were dying, but when they were straightened out, they immediately disgorged and started paddling away. Those birds large enough to travel take to the water immediately on the approach of danger, and they gather in large flocks as they drift idly on the quiet water and wait until their rookery is undisturbed again.
Besides the birds which make up the vast colonies, there are many other interesting species nesting in this state. The ibis, the awkward wood stork, and the beautiful roseate spoonbill are found in different parts. The anhingas choose the cypress, hiding their nests among the dense curtains of moss, and darting away at the first approach of danger. What wonderful divers they are, and how interesting their young! (See page 52.)
Louisiana is not a state of greatly diversified scenery, but she offers a beautiful contrast when compared with other states of the Union. The placid lagoons are bordered with huge cypresses and wide-stretching live oaks, all clothed with a drapery of Spanish moss. The swamps are often a jungle of tropical luxuriance, impassable because of the clinging vines. The lowlands have their fascination with their beaches and wind-blown trees, their wave-beaten palmettos, and inviting
As a natural bird paradise, the state of Louisiana is admirably adapted to become a haven of refuge, which will be able gradually to send its feathered folk throughout the country to gladden the hearts of the thousands who wander out of doors.
A SERIES OF DUOTONE REPRODUCTIONS SHOWING
THE PROTECTED BIRD LIFE OF OUR
BY ALFRED M. BAILEY
GRACEFUL FOLLOWERS OF BOATS AT SEA
The laughing gulls (Larus atricilla) fish far out at sea, where their cries may be heard early and late as they follow the boats for the trails of refuse. The prolonged call of the flock is the most peculiar of gull cries and not
unlike harsh, derisive laughter. Fast fliers, light of wing, and keen of vision, they sail with mar
snatch as they sail past