Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
ARDEA LUDOVICIANA, Wils.
Delicate in form, beautiful in plumage, and graceful in its movements, I
never see this interesting Heron, without calling it the Lady of the Waters.
Watch its motions, as it leisurely walks over the pure sand beaches of the coast
of Florida, arrayed in the full beauty of its spring plumage. Its pendent crest
exhibits its glossy tints, its train falls gracefully over a well defined tail,
and the tempered hues of its back and wings contrast with those of its lower
parts. Its measured steps are so light that they leave no impression on the
sand, and with its keen eye it views every object around with the most perfect
accuracy. See, it has spied a small fly lurking on a blade of grass, it
silently runs a few steps, and with the sharp point of its bill it has already
secured the prey. The minnow just escaped from the pursuit of some larger fish
has almost rushed upon the beach for safety; but the quick eye of the Heron has
observed its motions, and in an instant it is swallowed alive. Among the
herbage yet dripping with dew the beautiful bird picks its steps. Not a snail
can escape its keen search, and as it moves around the muddy pool, it secures
each water lizard that occurs. Now the sun's rays have dried up the dews, the
flowers begin to droop, the woodland choristers have ended their morning
concert, and like them, the Heron, fatigued with its exertions, seeks a place of
repose under the boughs of the nearest bush, where it may in safety await the
coolness of the evening. Then for a short while it again searches for food.
Little difficulty does it experience in this; and at length, with the last
glimpse of day, it opens its wings, and flies off towards its well-known
roosting-place, where it spends the night contented and happy.
This species, which is a constant resident in the southern parts of the
peninsula of the Floridas, seldom rambles far from its haunts during the winter
season, being rarely seen at that period beyond Savannah in Georgia to the
eastward. To the west it extends to the broad sedgy flats bordering the mouths
of the Mississippi, along the whole Gulf of Mexico, and perhaps much farther
south. In the beginning of spring, it is found abundantly in the Carolinas, and
sometimes as far east as Maryland, or up the Mississippi as high as Natchez.
You never find it far inland: perhaps forty miles would be a considerable
distance at any time of the year. It is at all seasons a social bird, moving
about in company with the Blue Heron or the White Egret. It also frequently
associates with the larger species, and breeds in the same places, along with
the White Heron, the Yellow-crowned Heron, and the Night Heron; but more
generally it resorts to particular spots for this purpose, keeping by itself,
and assembling in great numbers. Those which visit the Carolinas, or the
country of the Mississippi, make their appearance there about the first of
April, or when the Egrets and other species of Heron seek the same parts,
returning to the Floridas or farther south about the middle of September,
although I have known some to remain there during mild winters. When this is
the case, all the other species may be met with in the same places, as the
Louisiana Heron is the most delicate in constitution of all. Whilst at St.
Augustine in Florida, in the month of January, I found this species extremely
abundant there; but after a hard frost of a few days, they all disappeared,
leaving the other Herons, none of which seemed to be affected by the cold, and
returned again as soon as the Fahrenheit thermometer rose to 80 degrees. There
they were in full livery by the end of February, and near Charleston by the 5th
Although timid, they are less shy than most ethier species, and more easily
procured. I have frequently seen one alight at the distance of a few yards, and
gaze on me as if endeavouring to discover my intentions. This apparent
insensibility to danger has given rise to the appellation of Egrette folle,
which is given to them in Lower Louisiana.
The flight of this beautiful Heron is light, rather irregular, swifter than
that of any other species, and capable of being considerably protracted. They
usually move in long files, rather widely separated, and in an undulating
manner, with constant flappings. When proceeding towards their roosts, or when
on their migrations, they pass as high over the country as other species; on the
former occasion, they pass and repass over the same tract, thus enabling the
gunner easily to shoot them, which he may especially calculate on doing at the
approach of night, when they are gorged with food, and fly lower than in the
morning. They may, however, be still more surely obtained on their arriving at
their roosting place, where they alight at once among the lowest branches. On
being shot at, they seldom fly to a great distance, and their attachment to a
particular place is such that you are sure to find them there during the whole
period of their stay in the country, excepting the breeding time. At the cry
of a wounded one, they assail you in the manner of some Gulls and Terns, and may
be shot in great numbers by any person fond of such sport.
On the 29th of April, while wading around a beautiful key of the Floridas,
in search of certain crustaceous animals called the sea crayfish, my party and I
suddenly came upon one of the breeding places of the Louisiana Heron. The
southern exposures of this lovely island were overgrown with low trees and
bushes matted together by thousands of smilaxes and other creeping plants,
supported by various species of cactus. Among the branches some hundred pairs
of these lovely birds had placed their nests, which were so low and so close to
each other, that without moving a step one could put his hand into several. The
birds thus taken by surprise rose affrighted into the air, bitterly complaining
of being disturbed in their secluded retreat. The nests were formed of small
dried sticks crossing each other in various ways. They were flat, had little
lining, and each contained three eggs, all the birds being then incubating.
Observing that many eggs had been destroyed by the Crows and Buzzards, as the
shells were scattered on the ground, I concluded that many of the Herons had
laid more than once, to make up their full complement of eggs; for my opinion
is, that all our species, excepting the Green Heron, never lay more nor less
than three, unless an accident should happen. The eggs of the Louisiana Heron
measure one inch and six and a half twelfths in length, an inch and a quarter in
breadth; they are nearly elliptical, of a beautiful pale blue colour inclining
to green, smooth, and with a very thin shell. The period of incubation is
twenty-one days. Like all other species of the genus, this raises only one
brood in the season. The little island of which I have spoken lies exposed to
the sea, and has an extent of only a few acres. The trees or bushes with which
it was covered seemed to have been stunted by the effect produced by their
having been for years the receptacles of the Herons' nests.
On the 19th of May, in the same year, I found another breeding place of
this species not far from Key West. The young birds, which stood on all the
branches of the trees and bushes on the southern side of the place, were about
the size of our Little Partridge. Their notes, by which we had been attracted
to the spot, were extremely plaintive, and resembled the syllables wiee, wiee,
wiee. When we went up to them, the old birds all flew to another key, as if
intent on drawing us there; but in vain, for we took with us a good number of
their young. It was surprising to see the little fellows moving about among the
branches, clinging to them in all sorts of curious positions, and persevering in
forcing their way toward the water, when over which they at once dropped, and
swam off from us with great vigour and speed. When seized with the hand, they
defended themselves to the utmost. At this early period, they plainly shewed
the sprouting feathers of the crest. Many Crow Blackbirds had nests on the same
mangroves, and a Fish-Hawk also had formed its nest there at a height of not
more than five feet from the water. On the 24th of May, these Herons were fully
fledged, and able to fly to a short distance. In this state we, with some
difficulty, procured one alive. Its legs and feet were green, the bill black,
but its eyes, like those of an adult bird, were of a beautiful red hue. Many
were caught afterwards and taken as passengers on board the Marion. They fed on
any garbage thrown to them by the sailors; but whenever another species came
near them, they leaped towards its bill, caught hold of it as if it had been a
fish, and hung to it until shaken off by their stronger associates. On several
occasions, however, the Ardea occidentalis shook them off violently, and after
beating them on the deck, swallowed them before they could be rescued!
The place farthest up on the Mississippi where I have found this species
breeding was on Buffalo creek, about forty miles below Natchez, and ten miles in
a direct line from the great river. To the eastward I have found them breeding
in company with the Green Heron and the Night Heron, within a few miles of
During summer and autumn, after the old birds have left their young, both
are frequently seen in the rice-fields, feeding along the ditches by which the
water is led to those places. At this season they are uncommonly gentle and
The Louisiana Heron acquires the full beaut of its plumage the second year
after its birth, although it continues for some time to increase in size. The
train and crest lengthen for several years until they become as represented in
the plate. To procure specimens in such complete plumage, however, requires
some care, for this state does not last many days after pairing has taken place,
and by the time the young are hatched much of this fine plumage has dropped.
When autumn has come, only a few of the long barbs remain, and in winter no
appearance of them can be seen.
The flesh of the young birds affords tolerable eating. The food of this
species consists of small fry, water insects, worms, slugs, and snails, as well
as leeches, tadpoles, and aquatic lizards.
LOUISIANA HERON, Ardea Ludoviciana, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 13.
ARDEA LUDOVICIANA, Bonap. Syn., p. 305.
LOUISIANA HERON, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 51.
LOUISIANA HERON, Ardea Ludoviciana, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 136;vol. v. p. 605.
Male, 27, 37.
Resident in the Floridas and Texas, where it is abundant. Migrates
eastward to New Jersey, where it is rare; up the Mississippi to Natchez. Never
seen far inland.
Bill much longer than the head, straight, compressed, tapering to a point,
the mandibles nearly equal. Upper mandible with the dorsal line nearly
straight, the ridge broad and slightly convex at the base, narrowed towards the
end, a groove from the base to two-thirds of the length, beneath which the sides
are convex, the edges thin and sharp, with a notch on each side close to the
sharp tip. Nostrils basal, linear, longitudinal, with a membrane above and
behind. Lower mandible with the angle extremely narrow and elongated, the
dorsal line beyond it ascending and almost straight, the edges sharp and
slightly inflected, the tip acuminate.
Head rather small, oblong, compressed. Neck very long and slender. Body
slender and compressed; wings rather large. Feet very long; tibia elongated,
its lower half bare, very slender, covered all round with angular scales, of
which the posterior are scutelliform; tarsus elongated, slender, compressed,
covered anteriorly with numerous scutella, laterally and behind with angular
scales. Toes of moderate length, rather slender, scutellate above, reticularly
granulate beneath; third toe much longer than second, which is very little
longer than fourth, the hind toe much shorter but strong; claws of moderate
size, rather strong, arched, compressed, rather acute, that of the hind toe much
larger, the edge of that of the third regularly pectinated.
Space between the bill and eye, and around the latter, bare, as is the
lower half of the tibia. Plumage soft, generally loose. Feathers of the upper
and hind part of the head elongated, tapering, decurved, about six of them
larger and much longer; of the sides, and especially of the lower part of the
neck, also much elongated and narrow. The feathers of the fore part of the back
long and narrow-pointed, those behind extremely elongated, with long loose
threadlike barbs; the rest of the back with short soft feathers. Wing of
moderate length; primaries tapering but rounded, the third longest, second very
little shorter, first and fourth about equal; secondaries broad and rounded,
some of the inner as long as the longest primaries, when the wing is closed.
Tail very short, small, slightly rounded, of twelve rather weak feathers. Bill
brownish-black on the greater part of the upper mandible, and on the sides of
the lower mandible towards the point; the rest yellow, as is the bare space
before and around the eye. Iris bright red. Feet light yellowish-green, the
anterior scutella dusky, as are the claws. The general colour of the upper
parts is light purplish-blue; the elongated feathers of the head and hind neck
above of a fine reddish-purple, as are those of the lower part of the neck; the
six longest feathers of the head white. The long loose feathers of the back
dull purplish-yellow, paler towards their extremities. Throat white, its lower
part chestnut; a line of white all the way down the fore part of the neck; the
longer feathers of the fore part of the breast dusky-blue on their inner webs.
The breast, abdomen, tibia, and under wing-coverts, white; the lower
tail-coverts tipped with blue.
Length to end of tail 27 inches, to end of wings 28, to end of claws
34 1/2; extent of wings 37; loose feathers from 4 to 5 inches beyond the tail;
wing from flexure 10 3/4; tail 3 1/2; bill along the back 4, along the edges 5;
bare part of tibia 2 1/4; tarsus 4 1/8, middle toe 2 1/2, its claw 1/2. Weight
The Adult Female is precisely similar to the male.
The Young, when newly hatched, are covered above with pale purplish-grey
down, which is of greater length on the head, as in other species.
The young fully fledged have the neck and fore part of the back light
brownish-red, the throat and lower parts white, as is the hind part of the back;
the quills, larger wing-coverts and tail, light purplish-blue. The feathers of
the head, neck and back are not yet elongated. The bill nearly as in the adult,
but the legs deep greenish-olive.
After the first moult, the feathers of the head, neck and back, are a
little elongated, and begin to be tinged with the colours which they have when
the bird is full grown. The red of the neck is changed for tints of blue and
purple, as is that of the back, although remnants of it are still seen. The
fore part of the neck is white, mixed with brownish-red; the legs lighter.
Male from Galveston Island. In all the Herons that are furnished with
elongated feathers on the fore part of the back, these feathers form part of a
series on each side, arranged in the line of the scapulas, and extending to the
middle of the neck above. In all the Herons also, when the neck is curved, the
oesophagus and trachea pass above the line of the vertebrae, at its lower part
on the right side. The mouth is in this as in the other species, its width 8
twelfths, the lower mandible dilatable to 1 inch 1 twelfth. Tongue 1 inch 1
twelfth long, flattened, thin; grooved above, tapering to a point. OEsophagus
16 inches long, at its commencement 1 1/4 inches in width, soon after
contracting to 10 twelfths, and so continuing until it enters the thorax, where
it enlarges to 1 inch. The right lobe of the liver is 1 inch 11 twelfths in
length, the left lobe 1 1/2 inches; the gall-bladder 8 twelfths long, 3 twelfths
in breadth. The proventricular glands form a belt 10 twelfths in breadth. The
stomach is small, only 1 inch in diameter, its muscular coat rather thick, the
tendons roundish, half an inch in breadth; the pyloric lobe 7 1/2 twelfths long,
4 twelfths in diameter; the inner surface of the stomach as in the preceding
species. The intestine forms 30 folds, and measures 4 feet 7 inches in length;
its greatest width scarcely greater than that of a crow quill, being only 1
twelfth in the duodenal part, and almost precisely uniform in its whole length.
The rectum is 3 1/2 inches long, 3 twelfths in width; the coecum 3 twelfths
long, 1 1/2 twelfths wide; the cloaca globular, 1 inch 2 twelfths in diameter.
Trachea 12 1/2 inches long, of the uniform breadth of 2 twelfths,
moderately flattened. The rings firm, 218, and 4 dimidiate. Bronchial half
rings 20 and 18. Muscles as in the other species.