Norm’s Pond Rookery

For years, a variety of wading birds have gathered at Norm’s Pond to nest. Wading birds typically look for islands surrounded by freshwater wetlands. These freshwater wetlands are home to American alligators, who act as the birds’ best defense against mammalian predators, such as raccoons.  According to Tim Keyes, coastal bird biologist for Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Non-game program, there are 10 other nesting colonies, or rookeries, like this one on the coast. All of these colonies are monitored by GADNR at least twice a season by fly-overs and some are monitored additionally on the ground.

Aerial photograph of the wading bird rookery at Norm's Pond. (Photo by Tim Keyes)

Aerial photograph of the wading bird rookery at Norm’s Pond. (Photo by Tim Keyes)

Our wading bird rookery at Norm’s Pond is winding down, but not for lack of activity earlier in the season. This year we saw activity begin at the end of February. Tim Keyes noted that the mild winter resulted in earlier wading bird nesting along the coast. Breeding season also varies between species and this is to ensure less competition in the highly desirable nesting locations.

Cattle egret dancing and showing off breeding plumage. (Photo by Stephanie Knox)

Cattle egret dancing and showing off breeding plumage. (Photo by Stephanie Knox)

Little St. Simons Island’s rookery at Norm’s Pond provided perfect nesting habitat for 7 species of wading birds. The first of the wading birds to arrive were the great egrets, shortly followed by snowy egrets, tricolored herons, anhinga’s, cattle egrets, white ibis, and black-crowned night herons. Nest building, courtship, and copulation were observed as the birds brought sticks to the islands and danced with their partners to show off their brilliant breeding plumage.

The new two-story observation tower provides a spectacular view of the nests on one of the two islands at Norm’s Pond and along the perimeter of the pond. It also allows us to more accurately monitor the nests. We have been following the nests since the end of February and have found that as predicted, the nests on the islands fared better than the nests on the edge of the pond. This provides a perfect example to the important role that American alligators play as a keystone species, here on the coast. Without the American alligators to patrol the waters at the rookery, raccoons and other predators would be more likely to take advantage of the buffet of bird eggs.

American alligator patrolling at the rookery. (Photo by Stephanie Knox)

American alligator patrolling at the rookery. (Photo by Stephanie Knox)

The middle of the nesting season is the busiest time at the rookery. In May we had over 80 nests that could be observed from the viewing tower! We knew of additional nests on the far side of the pond and deep in the vegetation on the islands that could not be easily seen from the tower. Woodstorks and a couple of roseate spoonbills in breeding plumage visited the rookery but did not nest here.  There was also a yellow-crowned night heron fledgling seen recently which was an exciting find – this was the first sign that yellow-crowned night herons’ had nested at the site.

Four anhinga pairs were nesting earlier in the season and two of those nests each fledged (produced chicks that can fly) three chicks. Twenty nests are currently active at the rookery and are all most likely re-nests from pairs that were unsuccessful during their previous nesting attempts. We expect nesting at Norm’s Pond to be done by the end of September. Overall, the rookery has been successful this year and we are fortunate to be able to have such up-close and personal viewing opportunities during such an important part of the wading birds’ life cycle.

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It’s nesting time… with a special guest appearance!

Male (dark neck) and female (tan neck) Anhingas at Norm's Pond.

For the past couple of years, wading birds have set up a rookery at Norm’s Pond. This year the usual suspects in their stunning breeding plumage have already shown up.  There are at least four pairs of  Great Egrets who have already nested and are incubating their sky-blue eggs. The Snowy Egrets are in putting on a great show of courtship as they pick their mates. There are also some Tricolored Heron’s hopping about the branches.

The ones that have really gotten everyone talking are the Anhingas! Similar in appearance and ecology to the Double-crested Cormorant that is common here, the Anhinga is a rare visitor to our island. The Anhinga’s range extends from the coast of North Carolina through Texas. They prefer slow-moving freshwater habitats, presumably why we don’t see too many on Little St. Simons Island.

Like the Cormorant, the Anhinga is a dark water bird with a long slender neck. However, the Anhinga has a sharply pointed bill, and whitish/silver feathers on the top of its wings. When in their breeding plumage (like the ones at Norm’s Pond shown in the pictures) they have a brilliant blueish green ring around their eye.

Anhingas nest in small trees or shrubs near the water, and the male begins gathering nesting material before it has a mate. The pair at Norm’s Pond has a nest built, and we eagerly await the eggs, and about a month later, the chicks!

For more information on Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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