National Geographic : 1932 Oct
THE LARGE WADING BIRDS Long Legs and Remarkable Beaks, as Well as Size, Form, and Color, Distinguish the Herons, Ibises, and Flamingos BY T. GILBERT PEARSON PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION Or AUDUBON SOCIETIES With Paintings from Life by Maj. Allan Brooks THE GEOGRAPHIC presents in this number the second of a comprehensive series of paintings descriptive of all the important families of birds of North America. The first, "Seeking the Smallest FeatheredCreatures (Humming Birds)," appeared in the issue for July, 1932, and the third of the series will appearin an early number of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. -E DI TOR. HAUNTING the solitudes of the marshlands, the tule regions of the West, the winding streams and muskegs of the North, and the moss-hung cypress swamps of the South, are found those birds we may call the large waders. Their size, their grace, the snowy white ness of some, the striking colors of others, their unusual forms and attitudes, imme diately arrest the attention. Their lonely surroundings enhance their appeal to the lover of the wilderness, for a glimpse of one suggests the days of the pioneer, before steam shovels dug canals that took the water from seventy million acres of our picturesque regions. Their presence brings to the imagination other forms of wild life that one might see-an otter sliding from the bank, a bright-eyed mink darting to cover, or a turtle sunning itself on a log. This environment, years ago, was the haunt of the Indian seeking the bear, the beaver, and the white-tailed deer. In fancy, these are the things I see when a heron rises and wings its way into the shadows of the swamp. LONG LEGS AND REMARKABLE BEAKS AID IN GAINING LIVELIHOOD What influences in the evolution of life caused these birds to develop their long legs and remarkable beaks of varied shapes, one can only conjecture. Nature has provided them with specialized equip ment that serves them well in their daily lives. Their bills are of use not only in oiling and preening their feathers, in carry ing sticks for their nests, and in turning their eggs, but serve also as weapons of defense, and, when the birds are young, as hooks with which to support their weight when falling from a limb. Each species possesses a beak especially adapted for gathering the kind of food upon which it subsists. The sharp dagger of the heron spears fish, the curved bill of the ibis explores nooks and holes for crawfish, and the peculiar bill of the flamingo makes it possible to gather mollusks from the mud. As these birds collect virtually all their food from shallow water, their long legs, bare of feathers to a point near the body, make wading easy. Members of this group are distributed over nearly all parts of the globe, but are especially numerous in tropical and tem perate zones. HERONS ARE ONLY REMOTELY RELATED TO CRANES This article treats of the 18 species and I varieties that have been found in North America from Mexico to the Arctic seas (Canada and southern Alaska). They are classified under the Order Ciconii formes and are placed in four separate families. The herons and bitterns (Family Ar deidae), because of their large necks and legs, bear a superficial resemblance to cranes, but are only remotely related to that group. The storks (Family Ciconiidae) are dis tributed through the warmer parts of the earth, though only one species, the wood ibis (see Color Plate I) reaches the United States.