NYC – What Kind of Bird Was That?

I needed to see the feet–yellow or black? The roosting birds were not showing even a toe when Dave spotted them out the train window shortly after we pulled away from the station at the Newark Liberty International Airport. It was dusk and the white birds appeared to have settled in the trees next to the marshy wetland for the night, legs and beaks snugly tucked into their feathers.

At home I have bird identification guides stashed for easy reference: National Geographic next to the breakfast table, Sibley at my desk, and Peterson in the car. However, I didn’t have any of them with me on the train. Luckily, as with most things in modern life, there’s a smart phone application (app) for that.

Within moments I had Audubon available at my fingertips, not only photos and range maps, but also recordings of bird calls with a warning not to play them in the field (confusing not only to other birdwatchers, but also to the birds). Once I had the app it didn’t take me long to decide that what I had seen were egrets, but were they snowy egrets or great egrets? Based on their size, which I misjudged, I thought they were snowy egrets (Egretta thula).

 Photo Credit: Drew and Didi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Drew and Didi via Compfight cc

Wanting to be more certain I sent an email to Marie Winn who wrote Redtails in Love and has a blog about birding in Central Park. She was kind enough to immediately reply to my question. She, too, had seen these birds on train trips in the area and thought they were probably great egrets (Ardea alba). But she said it’s hard to know for sure without getting a look at their feet (snowy feet are yellow and greats are black) or beaks (snowy bills are mostly black and greats are yellow). I trust that Marie’s guess is better than mine.

 Photo Credit: mikebaird via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mikebaird via Compfight cc

The rest of my trip was a bust as far as birdwatching: two robins on a lawn in New Jersey, a few sparrows flitting around on the High Line, and a row of pigeons on the arm of a light post next to Central Park, which made me certain that Pale Male was not in the vicinity.

2 thoughts on “NYC – What Kind of Bird Was That?

  1. We have egrets here in the DR. They like to hang out with the cows and horses, no doubt to feed on the insects that tend to gather around livestock. I’ll have to see what color their legs and beaks are and will let you know. Maybe you spotted a distant cousin of the Dominican egret??

    • I think those are yet another kind of egret–cattle egrets, but I’ll have to check my app. I have seen them in Texas and Louisiana, sometimes on the backs of the cows!

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