Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tornado skirts (?) Night-Heron colony off Chef Hwy

Yesterday, I took a small group of my students to examine the impacts of the Feb 7 tornado on bird populations in the residential neighborhoods through which it tracked.  The EF3 tornado is estimated to have had winds of c. 140 mph and ran more or less parallel to Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East, cutting nearly perpendicularly across an array of residential side streets that run north from Chef.

Shortly after we began walking up one of these side streets from Chef (Knight),  we encountered Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in the live oaks that arch above the street, singles and pairs huddled around nests that are scattered through the trees.  One pair was copulating.  As we progressed, we counted 32 birds before we ran into the tornado damage a little over a block off Chef.  When we came back to Chef on the next street east, we saw another ten.  

Though incomplete, this count makes this a larger colony than any other I know of for this species in Greater New Orleans.  At first I thought that the tornado narrowly missed the birds, less than a block away.  However, one homeowner we spoke with smack in the middle of the tornado path said she had formerly had birds "pooping crawfish" on her property, so it sounds like the nest trees did previously extend up the block into the impact area.  Presumably there were no herons there when it came through- the species did not return on migration until March.  Hopefully the birds that would have nested in the trees taken by the tornado will just move to adjacent areas.

For some idea of the damage caused by the storm, here is a pic (with a European Starling on the wire).


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