The first chicks have arrived: beautiful, gawky, hungry and often noisy

by Anders Gyllenhaal
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You can sometimes hear them before you see them: Sweet but incessant cries of early life, calling for food, warmth, attention. If you’re lucky — and in the right place — you get a look at the first chicks of the season, which can be found all across Florida this month where the warm temperatures get the breeding season off to an early start.

The photos above, (from left to right), include a weeks-old Wood Stork, a Great Egret so new its feathers are nothing but fuzz, a Sandhill Crane already up and walking and a very young Anhinga, calling for food.

A Great Egret carries a branch to its nest

We spent the past six weeks roaming Florida on a spring-time birding trip. The nesting and breeding season is still many weeks away farther north, but here it’s in full swing for large coastal birds. You can see Egrets and Herons hauling sticks and branches across the marshes, and Wood Storks in the midst of their mating rituals. We witnessed the first generation of Anhingas, Cormorants and other new hatchlings in the nest, then perking up, and finally standing, walking and attempting to fly.

In one of the best viewing stands, a water reclamation project in Delray Beach called Wakodahatchee, you find the whole cast in one easily accessible location. We visited in early March and again at the end of the month; it’s as if life is a sped-up movie. Click here for our earlier post and video.

Young Great Blue Herons that were still squawking weeks ago are now standing up, looking much like their parents. Baby Wood Storks, only a few inches tall on our first visit, are now gawky fledglings with full-throttle voices they use every chance they get.

Wood Storks stuck in the nest weeks ago…

…are up and standing on unsteady legs by the end of March

 

Here’s a gallery that captures much of this, drawing from the Wakodahatchee rookery, the Viera Wetlands near Melbourne, and the massive Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Cape Canaveral.  In many ways, it’s a preview of the springtime ritual that will soon spread to northern habitats:

 

 

 

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