While flipping through the pages of Audubon’s Bird – The Definitive Visual Guide (First Edition), I came upon an eye-catching photo of a Tricolored Heron, in the introduction for the order Ciconiiformes. Herons, storks, egrets, bitterns, ibises and spoonbills were all in this order prior to 2008 (the book was published in 2007). This grouping was based on morphology but current phylogenetic trees are based on DNA sequence similarities. The 19 stork species are now the only members of Ciconiiformes and the other previous members have been placed in the Pelecaniformes order.
Herons, egrets and bitterns are all herons (family Ardeidae) and are grouped into various genera. Two major genera are Ardea and Egretta. The genus Ardea contains large herons, such as the Great Blue Heron and the Great Egret. The Great Egret, with its white plumage, resembles other egrets in colour and form, but otherwise, it has more in common with the various large heron species. The Tricolored Heron is in the genus Egretta, which contains medium sized herons. The Snowy Egret is also in the genus Egretta and also has a lovely photograph in Audubon’s book. I initially drew an ink outline of the Snowy Egret but couldn’t quite decide how to colour the shaded areas of white feathers with Crayola Markers. So I went looking for a more colourful bird.
I apologize to the heron for making his/her head and neck a little too big and a bit misshapen. I didn’t feel like spending too much time on the pencil outline so I jumped in with my black ink pen a bit early. The bold colours of the markers were fun to play with and I like the patterns they created. I used a black Superfine Pitt pen and a big box of 50 Crayola Markers.
Herons have long, flexible toes which allow them to spread their weight on soft mud and perch comfortably in high tree branches. I’ve never seen a Tricolored Heron in real life. They are usually found on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of the USA, the coasts of Mexico, Baja California, Central America, the Caribbean or the northwestern coasts of South America. Occasionally, they breed or overwinter in inland areas of the USA and there have been rare sightings in southeastern Canada.
Sources: Audubon’s Bird – The Definitive Visual Guide, Wikipedia, The Birds of North America Online (from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology) and eBird