The screaming never stops on the bird rookery. Babies want food. Mates need help. Competitors jockey for better territories and struggle to secure mates. It's so noisy here on this island in the middle of the Caloosahatchee I almost forget the foul smell of fish and bird poop. During the breeding season, many birds develop special plumes or bright colorations to attract a mate (the teal blue eye of the Anhinga, the crimson legs of the White Ibis). The Great Egret has spectacular tail feathers called aigrettes that were once prized by plumage hunters. They appear wispy and delicate and have a yellowed - burnt marshmallow appearance towards there tips. In the late 19th and early part of the 20th century, plumage hunters sought out rookeries where they would slaughter nesting birds and take their feathers. Chicks were left to starve. Eggs left unincubated never hatched. The feathers were used for decoration and specifically for women's hats that were all the rage at the time. In 1908 - an ounce of plumes was worth more than an ounce of gold. Great Blue Herons, Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Egrets and other bird populations were severely impacted by this less than noble trade.When the plume rage was exposed as murderous fashion, the rage of the nation led to federal legislation banning the sale of plumes. Populations have been slow to rebound over the many decades that have passed and some say for every Great Egret you see today - you might have seen 10 a century ago. Here at the rookery, Wood Stork nests far outnumber Great Egret nests. Nevertheless, courtship continues as Egrets flash their aigrettes like a Peacock (since the courtship period is over - I don't have a shot of this). Mates are wooed. Eggs are laid. Chicks are born. Here -one of several chicks pesters an adult for partially digested fish.
We can be thankfull in large part to the Audubon Society who led the way in protecting South Florida's birds well over 100 years ago by introducing protective legislation, developing educational programs and putting boots on the ground to physically protect the birds - assuring that we wouldn't have to live without aigrettes.