By Dave Sigworth, publicist of The Maritime Aquarium
With our special summer “Lorikeets” exhibit, The Maritime Aquarium invites you to enjoy memorable encounters with 50-some beautiful tropical parrots in an aviary on our riverfront courtyard. Details at http://www.maritimeaquarium.org/exhibits-a-animals/special-exhibits
But while you’re out there, make some observations along the Norwalk River. You’re likely to see native birds, including:
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)– Consider yourself lucky if you see one of these elegant white birds (actually a type of heron) stalking prey along the water’s edge. Once common in Connecticut, egrets were nearly wiped out by the late 1800s because their beautiful white plumes (present in the breeding season) made for fashionable adornments on women’s hats. The population has slowly been recovering thanks to federal and state protections. These white medium-sized herons have black legs and yellow feet. They grow to about two feet tall, with a 40-inch wingspan. (Great egrets are larger and have black feet.)
Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) – These black birds often can be seen outside the Aquarium, floating on the water surface and then diving below in search of food. Or you may see one standing with its wings outstretched to dry off. Cormorant populations have rebounded in the last 40 years, to the point – some have argued – that they’re now depleting the stocks of game fish and that their guano at their rookeries is environmentally ruinous. While others have argued that cormorants are easy scapegoats, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service now does allow limited annual reductions of cormorant populations in 24 states.
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) – Native to Europe, these grand white birds were introduced in the eastern U.S. around 1910 to grace the ponds of estates and parks. However, they’re considered an invasive species because they’re big and territorial and will aggressively force out the smaller native waterfowl. (They also graze heavily on the aquatic vegetation that native waterfowl need.) Swans average 25 pounds, with a wingspan of 7 to 8 feet, and can live 20 to 30 years.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) – A conservation success story, New England’s osprey population plunged by 80 to 90 percent between the 1940s and late 1960s, but – with federal protections and the banning of certain pesticides – the population has rebounded. Nicknamed the “fish hawk,” ospreys will soar over the river looking for fish and then dive down to (and sometimes into) the water to snap up its meals. They make large stick nests; wildlife managers encourage the construction of nesting platforms for osprey use. Here’s a live webcam of an osprey nest in Missoula, MT: http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/27/Hellgate_Ospreys
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Standing 4 feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan, this majestic bird is the largest heron in North America. Seeing one flying in offers an impressive hint at what it was like in the prehistoric days of the pterosaurs. Great blue herons will stand patiently motionless in the river shallows, waiting for a fish, amphibian or crab to come near, and then snap them up with their spear-like bill. Check out this webcam of a great blue heron nest in Ithaca, N.Y.: http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/8/Great_Blue_Herons
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) – The quintessential gray and white “seagull”; one of the largest, noisiest and most familiar. Herring Gulls prey on a variety of marine creatures but also are opportunistic scavengers that will feed on fish, carrion and trash. It takes four years before they get their adult plumage. If one comes close enough to you, look for the red spot on its bill. That’s a target for baby gulls to poke at, which will encourage the parent gull to regurgitate its meal for the baby.