Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great and white, indeed, and even a heron... just not Great White Heron

My father gets a magazine called The Tennessee Conservationist, published by the state's Department of Environment and Conservation. It's a very good publication, but this month they fell into a trap.

great egret Reelfoot Lake by Mike Serkownek

The above photo was captioned "A Great White Heron at Reelfoot Lake". That's wrong. To begin with, the GWH is restricted to southern Florida. Sure, it's not impossible for one to be in Tennessee, but it would be amazing. Everyone in the birding world would be there, taking pictures. Next, the legs are the wrong color - GWH's legs are brownish/yellowish, not black. GWH has short plumes on the back of its head, and utterly lacks the long decorative plumes seen on this bird - he's not in full breeding plumage, his face has no green, but he still has a few of those plumes that caused this magnificent heron to be hunted into near extinction. What is he? He's a Great Egret.

In short: just because some birds have names like "Yellow-headed Blackbird" when they are, in fact, black birds with yellow heads, don't fall for thinking that all those apparently descriptive names match up. For instance, the "Red-bellied Woodpecker" has such a tiny, inconspicuous bit of red between its legs that most of the time you can't even see it. And this bird is certainly great and white and a heron, but... it's not a Great White Heron.

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