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image for Audubon paints the great marbled godwit in the Florida Keys and Key West

A Guide to John Audubon's visit to the Florida Keys 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AUDUBON IN THE FLORIDA KEYS


 

 

INDEX

  
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1832


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HEADED
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FRIGATE BIRD


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TORTUGAS


SOOTY
TERN


BLACK
HEADED GULL


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NODDY


CAYENNE
TERN


BROWN
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SANDWICH
TERN


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HERON


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John Audubon writes about the
Great Blue Heron near Key West

 

map of Florida Keys and Key West


 

 

 

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Great Blue Heron

 


 Audubon had observed the Great Blue Heron in his travels before coming to the Keys and begins his narrative about the Great Blue Heron from the shoreline of the the Ohio River.

 

"The State of Louisiana has always been my favorite portion of the Union, although Kentucky and some other states have divided my affections; but as we are on the bank of the fair Ohio, let us pause a while, good Reader , and watch the Heron. in my estimation , few of our waders are more interesting than the birds of this family. Their contours and movements are always graceful, if not elegant. Look on the one that stands near the margin of the pure stream: -see his reflection dipping as it were into the smooth water, the bottom of which it might reach had it not to contend with the numerous boughs of the magnificent trees. How calm, how silent, how grand is the scene! . . . Satisfied that no danger is near, he lays his head on his shoulders, allows the feathers of his breast to droop, and patiently awaits the approach of his finned prey. . . . "

 

"The Blue Crane (the term then used by many in the United States for the Great Blue Heron) is met with in every part of the Union. ... I have found it in every State in which I have traveled, as well as in all our 'Territories.' It is well known from Louisiana to Maine. . . . It is a hardy bird, and bears extremes of temperature surprisingly. . . ."

 

Audubon write more than eight pages on the Great Blue Heron in his Ornithological Biography. He mentions observing them in Florida several times in terms of their nesting and breeding habits and provides an account of a Great Blue heron shot in Florida.

" . . . While on the St. John River in East Florida, I shot one of these birds, and on opening it on board, found in its stomach a fine perch quite fresh, but of which the head had been cut off. The fish, when cooked, I found excellent, as did Lieutenant Piercy and my assistant Mr. Ward, but Mr. Lehman would not so much as taste it. . . . "

Audubon also wrote that while in Key West he collected several live young Great Blue Herons. In present day Key west fishermen are cautioned when filleting fish not to feed fish carcasses to Pelican and herons. Audubon's discovery about an emaciated heron would seem to bear this out.

 ". . . The number of fishes, measuring five or six inches, which one of the birds devours in a day, is surprising: Some which I kept on board the Marion would swallow, in the space of half an hour, a bucketful of young mullets; and when fed on the flesh of green turtles, they would eat several pounds at a meal. I have no doubt that, in favourable circumstances, one of them could devour several hundreds of small fishes in a day. A Heron that was caught alive on one of the Florida Keys, near Key West, looked so emaciated when it came on board, that I had it killed to discover the cause of its miserable condition. It was an adult that had bred that spring; her belly was in a state of mortification, and on opening her, we found the head of a fish measuring several inches, which in its undigested state, had lodged among the entrails of the poor bird. How long it had suffered could only be guessed, but this undoubtedly was the cause of the miserable state in which it was found.



 
 Gteat Blue Heron photo courtesy of South Florida Water Management District
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Additional information about the great blue heron may be found by following the link below to the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas. The Atlas, a collaborative effort of Audubon of Florida, the Florida Ornithological Society, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission provides information of general status, habitat, and status of  breeding species in Florida.

http://wildflorida.org/bba/GBHE.htm

Additional information about the great blue heron may be found by following this link to eNature.com

 

 


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