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Species Of Herons, Conservation Of Herons

Herons, egrets, and bitterns are large, slender wading birds in the family Ardeidae, order Ciconiiformes (which also includes anhingas, storks, spoonbills, and ibises). Most of the species in the heron family have long legs, necks, and bills. These characteristics are all adaptive to hunting their prey of fish, amphibians, snakes, small mammals, and other animals living in the shallow waters of wetlands. The prey is generally caught by grasping it firmly in the mandibles, and is then killed by beating it against the ground, branches, or another hard substrate. The food is usually then rinsed, and swallowed head-first.

Herons have an unusual articulation of the sixth vertebra that is adaptive to swallowing large prey. This feature causes the neck of herons to adopt a distinctive, S-shape when they are in flight or resting, although their neck can be extended while grooming or to give greater reach while attempting to catch prey.

Herons also have an unusual type of filamentous feathers, known as powder-down. These feathers are very friable, and disintegrate into a powder that the bird rubs over the major body feathers to cleanse them of slime from its food of fish.

Herons primarily occur along the edges of lakes and other shores, and in marshes, swamps, and other relatively productive wetlands. Many species in the heron family are colonial nesters, generally on islands, if possible. A snowy egret (Egretta thula) on Estero Island, Florida. This species, once hunted to near extinction by the millinery trade, became a symbol for the early conservation movement in the United States and remains the emblem of the National Audubon Society. Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission. These birds typically build platform nests of sticks in trees, sometimes with many nests in a single, large tree.

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