July 12, 2021 – Out at Brazos Bend State Park, I saw many young birds and their parents, allowing an interesting contrast between plumages. For birds, their first summer is a real challenge, learning how and where to find food and shelter, while their feathers may not be up to full functionality.
This mamma Common Gallinule had her work cut out for her, keeping nine chicks together, and teaching them to graze. If you’re counting heads, one of the chicks is behind the little fellow displaying his outsized feet. Gallinules grow up to have big feet for walking across marsh plants floating on the water, and this little guy is dealing with feet that are almost as big as his body. The chicks’ soft down barely covers them, leaving little wings naked, and heads nearly bald.
This family has more mature young, which have started to replace the hatchling down with gray juvenile feathers. I love the speckles of green on their legs and chests; like kids everywhere, they’ve been enjoying their lunch! Their heads and wings are now covered with proto-feathers. And you can clearly see the size differences between the chicks often aged just a day or two apart. It is also common to see the initial brood size of 8-10 chicks reduced by predation.
An older teenager demonstrated his near-adult athletic powers by balancing on one leg and sticking one wing out to sun while grooming his opposite armpit… and checking to see that he was being admired, just like The Fonz, on the TV series “Happy Days”.
A calico-stage Little Blue Heron tried to ignore me. His plumage tells me this is his second year, and he is more than half-way through his molt, going from being pure white, to being the mature dark slate-blue.
In both sun and shade, I’ve found it difficult to capture the “blue” in the mature Little Blue Heron. The angle and color of the light against his feathers has to be just right; I only managed a hint of it in this image.
Great Blue Herons go through four molts in their first two years, the fourth one being their first breeding plumage. This immature Great Blue Heron has no plumes, and his forehead is still black; from my reading, I think he is a first-year bird. He looks perfectly poised.
But his neighbor is going through a seriously rough patch with his molt. Although he shows some head and back plumes, his chest plumes are thin. His forehead is still mottled, he is missing the black ribs of the adult, and his chestnut shoulders and pantaloons are still patchy. My estimation is that he’s in his second year, perhaps in the middle of his third molt.
An immature Red-bellied Woodpecker was busily hunting bugs on a tree branch. When this young bird molts to adult plumage, his peachy hint of a crown will be replaced by blazing red feathers.
At the Spillway Bridge, a Tricolored Heron was fishing in the fast-moving water after 3 days of rain. Clearly his adult color is perfect for hiding in plain sight along waterways. In this image, I like how there is just enough light across his face to highlight the details, without washing it out… the thin clouds were really cooperating.
Above him, another mature bird was sitting on a tall branch, and as soon as I pointed the lens at him and started clicking, he puffed up his feathers and swung his head back and forth, his neck plumes waving. He lowered his head straight at me, glowering, then calmed and straightened his plumes. I didn’t see any juvenile Tricolored Herons – they are easy to distinguish in their cinnamon plumage.
Seeing both mature and immature birds on the same outing helps me appreciate their changing appearance – and I’m getting better at recognizing their identity, even when they are not in their “basic” plumage.