Saturday, November 12, 2011

Formerly Known As the Louisiana Heron

I have a book called “American Wildlife Illustrated” from 1940 that sits on my book shelf with all of my other aging natural history references. Some of the books are as new as 2010 but for every day that goes by there is a fact, a theory or a matter of taxonomic nomenclature that becomes wrong, disproved or obsolete. Printed material is old school. Your digital Audubon Guides can be updated when needed.

When I started guiding in the Everglades in the 90’s there was a bird that everyone in the swamps called the Louisiana Heron. I was told it was also called a Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor), but people can be stubborn and despite the bird carrying a name of another state, the locals were content to keep the traditional name. I took a few years off from guiding and returned again in 2007. When I pointed to a heron and called it a Louisiana Heron you would have thought I called a Badger a Buffalo. “It’s a Tricolored Heron. Ain’t no one calls it Louisiana Heron no more.” Ok then. Tricolored it is.

To be fair the name change had been approved by the American Ornithologist’s Union in 1983 so everyone had ample time to acclimate to the new colorful name. Why the change? Eliminating local geographic names was deemed more appropriate. After all, the “Louisiana Heron” is found from the eastern seaboard of the United States, south through Texas and in a few spots in Central and South America. The three colors of the Tricolored Heron include a white belly, a powdery blue body and a reddish patch on the back.    

They are occasionally confused with the much larger Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and the similarly sized Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea). What always stands out to me is the white crest of feathers that the Tricolored adults develop during the breeding season. It pops out a bit in the back and looks like a mullet hairstyle.

There are still some old school birders who prefer “Louisiana Heron” but Tricolored Heron is certainly the norm. What you won’t see or hear anywhere  is someone petitioning for a name change to “Mullet Crested Heron”.