Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hello, Heronettes!

At first, I didn't think anybody was home when I visited the heronry on campus Friday evening. A sudden SPLAT!! to my right, and a bit on my cheek, soon told me otherwise. Baby heron butt above.

Hard to be sure, but I estimate at least five or six nestlings in the eastern heronry. And some of them have nearly lost all their fuzz, so perhaps they are about three-to-four weeks old.

In fact, some of them were stretching and flexing, at the very edge of their nests; I sensed their boredom, their itch to move--just like plane travellers on a cross-country flight.
You can see the keratin sheaths from which their primary feathers emerge--they look like slender grey tubes. On smaller birds, like my cockatiels or songbirds, they are called pin feathers because they really do look like needles or pins when they first emerge, the feather completely encased in the sheath liked a tightly rolled umbrella.

When a bird runs its beak through its feathers, the behavior called preening, it is sometimes helping the sheath dislodge and fall away. Social birds, like parrots, sometimes do this for each other. And I sometimes help my cockatiel Lemon remove her sheaths with my fingers. You can see the result on my floors.


  1. Great shots! We have a parrot--more accurately, my wife has a parrot, since he is insanely jealous of me even after 12 years--& she attends to his pin feathers. Good explanation of them!

  2. So let me understand: Is the pin feather distinct from what is attached to the base of a feather i might find on the ground? Are pin feathers something they get when young, or throughout life (which, must be the case if Lemon still gets them)? Do all feathers start in the sheath and then drop it....