I never realize how different I look today compared to 20 years ago until kids see pictures of me from way back when. “You used to have hair?” is often the brilliant observation, as if I was bald from the day I was born. Yes we change. In some cases drastically and others quite subtly but when you look in the mirror it’s still you that peers back.
I imagine Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) chicks having the same conversation with their parents. “You mean you weren’t always blue?” Of course this doesn’t happen. Herons could care less about these things, but if they did recognize their reflection as a fledgling compared to an adult, the bird looking back would look entirely different.
Adult birds have attractive blue-grey plumage with purple feathers around the head. While other birds develop breeding plumage for courtship, the Little Blue Heron’s coloration serves as a built in chick magnet. So to speak.
I see them foraging alone while other wading birds such as Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula), Great Egrets (Ardea alba) and White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) feed in the shallows together. These three species of white-plumed birds benefit from feeding together. Additional eyes allow for better protection from predators on land, in the sky and in the water. While ibis probe the mud for insects and crustaceans, egrets feed on the fish and other critters stirred up by the ibis.
An adult Little Blue Heron would look completely out of place in a flock of white birds. But the observant birder might notice a white bird among the flock that looks slightly different. For the first year or two, the juvenile Little Blue Heron is decked out in nearly colorless feathers. They feed and roost among other white birds and when they have the life experience to survive on their own, they molt and develop the colorful blue and purple costume.
I spotted this Little Blue Heron hunting alone. Its eyes surveyed the surface of the water for minnows or insects, but my mind considered the idea that the heron was looking at its reflection and wondering what it will look like when it grows up.