When the World Goes to the Birds

Lafitte’s Cove ~ Galveston Island

With tourists being encouraged to leave the Island, weekenders staying in town, and full-time residents of Galveston’s west end more-or-less sequestered in their homes, much of the Island’s bird population continues to wander at will. 

Here, a pair of white ibis (Eudocimus albus) forage in a traffic median at the entrance to the Lafitte’s Cove subdivision. My hunch is that the new mulch around the plantings is filled with good things to eat, and this pair decided to visit the buffet. Notice that while the bird on the left is wide-eyed, the one on the right has closed it’s ‘third eyelid,’ a nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink), that helps to protect the eyes of birds, as well as various reptiles, mammals, and fishes. Wise bird, with all those thorns around.


Comments always are welcome..

47 thoughts on “When the World Goes to the Birds

  1. I enjoy your water bird shots and that’s a beauty. We have herons of various sorts around here, as we live near Shoal Creek and, well, they fly. I used to get Great Blue herons, usually one every spring, at my pond. I think my back garden is now too leaf-covered for one to want a visit. They have easier pickings elsewhere.

    1. I saw something this morning I’ve never seen: fourteen black-crowned night herons arrayed along some electrical/phone wires. I noticed last week that the one that was roosting in my tree has disappeared. Maybe it’s the season for communal roosting, or some other heron-ish behavior I don’t know about. In any event, the ibis are everywhere, and they’re great fun to see.

      1. How fun! Herons are such beautiful, unwieldy things. For a couple of seasons, our neighborhood had yellow crowned herons nesting in various trees.

  2. “Notice that while the bird on the left is wide-eyed, the one on the right has closed it’s ‘third eyelid,’ a nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink), that helps to protect the eyes of birds”

    Thanks for that interesting info, Linda.
    Stay well and healthy,

    1. Those ‘third eyelids’ are interesting. There are days when I’m sanding — or when the pollen’s blowing around — that I could use one, too. The first few times I saw birds with them closed, I was sure they had some kind of eye disease. Nope — just nature doing her thing.

  3. Too bad English doesn’t have a nictant corresponding to nictare the way it has a nutant corresponding to nutare. Instead we have the Latin-English hybrids nictating and nictitating. We’ll have to wink at English for being inconsistent.

    1. I still remember how offended I was when I first learned that it’s ‘i before e, except after c.’ I couldn’t understand why there should be an exception. Then I learned that ‘rule’ isn’t a rule at all, and things got even more (ahem) ‘weird.’ I got a kick out of this Merriam-Webster entry about it all.

  4. I’m glad the birds at least are finding a nice buffet to enjoy, Linda. Restaurants are closed here (except for take-out, but even that’s limited), and our grocery shelves are fast looking like a hurricane is approaching!

    1. Here’s my theory about the empty grocery store shelves: after they closed the movie theaters, sports arenas, shopping malls, and bowling alleys, there weren’t many places to go except the grocery stores. I’m convinced a lot of people are shopping for entertainment; the grocery stores are someplace to go, and they buy while they’re there to justify the visit. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

      The grocery store birds are loving it, of course. The grackles and gulls are finding extra tidbits to nosh on.

  5. Hooray for the birds, I say. They deserve a respite from humans pestering them! If only they knew about COVID-19 they might wish it to become a permanent state of affairs!

    1. Not many birds get pestered on Galveston Island, except for the gulls that hang out around the tourist spots and restaurants, and they probably deserve a little pestering.

      In fact, Lafitte’s Cove, where I found the ibis, is a marvelous nature preserve as well as a subdivision; people who buy property there buy into the preserve as well. It’s one of the best-known birding spots on the island, with ponds, groves of trees, a bit of prairie-like land, and so on. I’ll bet you’ll like these incredible photos of birds found there during spring and fall migrations.

      During the spring fallout, birders from all over the world come to the Island for festivals, photography, and birding. There’s a wealth of shorebirds on the east end, and neotropicals galore in the oaks and salt cedars on the west end. If I were a bird, I’d live on the Island in a minute!

  6. The ibis are dazzling.

    I never knew about that third eye until one time I was taking duck photos at the Ditch and I had it on multiple shoot. When I looked at the pics, you could see it so clearly. Well, of course, then I had to stand there and watch them!

    Please stay well, Linda. I know these are hard times in your work. Thinking of you.

    1. I think I remember you either writing about the membrane, or perhaps even posting a photo of it. I mentioned up above that the first time I encountered a bird with its membrane closed, I was sure it had some terrible disease. I’ve seen it in mallards and cormorants, as well as grebes and northern shovelers. It’s a great adaptation for diving or dabbling ducks, especially: built-in swim goggles, if you will!

      Things are sorting themselves out, little by little. While everyone else was toting home toilet paper and water, I was stockpiling varnish and sandpaper. I may not have to buy supplies until September — now all I have to do is find a way to use them! But for right now that’s not a problem, and it certainly is a gift to be able to be out in the sunshine, and working, too.

    1. Our white ibis can show up anywhere. I’ve seen them marching across the lawns of nursing homes, and patrolling the fence at the edge of my apartment complex. The funniest sighting of them ever was in the days before I had a camera: six of them were perched on the benches around a concrete picnic table at a marina, acting for all the world like a group waiting on their meal. They’re not exactly shy birds!

  7. This is the first time I have seen a photo of an ibis. We practically lived in Galveston when we lived in LaMarque, Hitchcock and Texas City. We never saw an ibis though. They’ve only existed on walls of some ancient tomb. I’ve drawn them in attempts to “write” Egyptian hieroglyphs though. LOL. I believed (in my little girl mind) they lived only in Egypt.

    Who knew their eyes are lined with red kohl? They’re stunning.

    Thank you.

    1. I can’t believe you never saw ibis, living where you did. The last group I saw were making their way along the railroad tracks paralleling Highway 3 between Dickinson and laMarque — they’re such fun to watch when they’re in a group. They remind me of high school girls who want to go everywhere together — except ibis don’t giggle.

      The area around their eyes, called ‘lores,’ get redder during mating season, although their legs and beaks always are reddish. They’re quite handsome birds.

  8. You were just at the right place again. I am literally about a block and a half from the lake and none of the big water birds ever stop by. They will fly over and I have seen quite a few ducks recently.

    1. Wading birds like these ibis prefer shallow water, since they probe the mud and muck for crawfish, frogs, crabs, and other tidbits. I’ve noticed out at the refuges that if we have a lot of rain and the ponds get deeper, the wading birds disappear. They’re often out in the agricultural fields, or other places where the water is quite shallow. Egrets and herons will adapt to deeper water, but the spoonbills and ibis like the shallows.

  9. We look like summertime here and not just because of the record high temps. All our snow-birds, especially Canadians, took off for home as soon as we got our first virus case! White birds are about all we have around here lately.

    1. It is interesting to see the changes wrought here with the departure of the tourists/spring breakers/snowbirds. The economic dislocation is substantial, and it’s going to get worse. Some areas depend on manufacturing, some on farming, but we depend on the tourist/entertainment dollar, and that’s just gone. It’s a shame that NOLA didn’t cancel Mardi Gras, but I suspect even those who might have been concerned were doing the old cost/benefit analysis. Unfortunately, the costs they incurred may have been much greater than anticipated.

      1. We’ll recover – we always do. Heck we made it through the Great Depression and 2 world wars – we just have to stick together and work for it!

    1. Our ibis are particularly fun to have around, because they tolerate humans fairly well. Not only that, their enjoyment of grasshoppers, grubs, and crawfish often tempt them toward places like this landscaped spot, and they aren’t particularly ‘flighty.’

  10. What an amazing sight to see in an urban area. Perhaps we’ll see more wild birds seeking food in towns and cities as the general population leave the streets empty.

    1. In truth, this area isn’t particularly urban. The subdivision is the site of a nature preserve, and just down the road is a large area of land that’s being restored to coastal prairie. There are communities on the west end of the island, but it’s mostly homes, and many belong to weekenders. The bayous, sloughs, and coastal marshes make it a perfect spot of wading and other water birds, and they take full advantage of it.

      On the other hand, I see ibis more than any other so-called “water bird” in my area, especially when we’ve had a good bit of rain. They’ll spend hours probing the soil for whatever it is they enjoy eating: grubs, I suppose, and crawfish, as well as grasshoppers and such. They like to travel in large groups, especially during mating season, and they can be a real kick to watch. I found this group at the nursing home across the street from my apartment complex.

  11. The Ibis here too are in the middle of cities, sometimes wandering onto highways. In paddocks they seem to follow the cows and are sometimes seen to investigate their pats.
    Perhaps they are in cities because of the availability of scraps that people leave behind.

    1. Our cows usually are accompanied by cattle egrets. The Cornell birding site says, “The Cattle Egret spends most of its time in fields rather than streams. It forages at the feet of grazing cattle, head bobbing with each step, or rides on their backs to pick at ticks… Originally from Africa, it found its way to North America in 1953 and quickly spread across the continent. Elsewhere in the world, it forages alongside camels, ostriches, rhinos, and tortoises—as well as farmers’ tractors.”

      I’ve never seen the ibis in actual cities, like Houston. An occasional one may fly though, or over, but they prefer to come to the coast. Down here, although we’re certainly heavily populated, there are so many bayous, sloughs, and wet vacant lots that they do quite well. As for eating human scraps, the ibis don’t — but the gulls, grackles, and sparrows do their part to clean up after us!

    1. They do gain color during the mating season, and you’re right that their beaks complement the flowers very well in this photo. I’m always amused by the muddy tips on those beaks — a sure sign of just how far down into the mud, or mulch, they’re having to probe to find their snacks.

  12. What a delightful unexpected pleasure someone must have had to look out their window and see those in their rose bed. All I’ve got in mine are weeds.

    1. After making the decision to move, the next best decision I made was to get bird feeders and seed. Now, I have a constant stream of birds and squirrels coming by — dozens, at least. And there are some surprises from time to time. Yesterday, I thought I heard a cat meowing, and tore outdoors, ready to do battle. No need — it was a cat squirrel on the side of a palm tree. You never know!

  13. They are not the only birds with the run of a place. These are having a nice time of it. I’ve also seen pictures of towns where coyotes are all that are seen on the streets currently. I think most of us would prefer ibises. There have been more than a few times I wished for nictitating eye lids.

    1. Penguins are adorable under most circumstances, and those must be having the time of their lives. As for the coyotes, they’re around here normally — or at least when the feral cat population begins to rise. After a time, the cats are gone, and so are the coyotes. Balance of nature, and all that.

      Wouldn’t those built-in goggles be great? Most of the time I forego putting goggles on when I’m sanding, since standing upwind of my work takes care of the dust, but an occasional, erratic windshift can be a surprise. It’s the same with respirators. If I were working in a shop I’d have to take more precautions, but outdoors with a decent breeze does a good job of wafting away the vapors.

  14. I always figured when the world ends it will go to the plants that will slowly fill the cracks in our constructions and reduce it all to dust again.

    But, it will be nice that the birds might be there too!! Yeah, My favourite rookery is closed so the birds have the place to themselves excepting perhaps some lucky maintenance personnel who may still be on duty there.

    Be safe!

    1. My hunch is that the end of the world’s not yet, despite some very odd doom-sayers who have some very odd theories about what’s going on. Every now and then I tune in to late-night AM radio if I happen to still be up, and it worries me to know there are people who listen to that stuff night after night. I like your vision of a gentle going, with the flowers and birds taking over, much more!

      Many of our sites are closed now, too, including two of the rookeries I was hoping to visit this spring. C’est la vie, I suppose — or C’est le virus!

      1. I definitely do not feel anything end of world about the appearance of a new zoonotic virus. It has happened before and will again. However, I can’t help but feel that with the knowledge we do have on the genesis of such things that we might learn to curb this species jumping aspect at the hot spots we do know of at the least anyway. Easier said than done probably…but I say do not make friends with bats or maybe friends of friends of bats. LOL!!

        Reference visiting my rookery, it hits home how you cannot take being able to go places for granted and should not postpone. I never conceived that avenue being closed to me in quite this way.

        Here’s one interesting link I ran into recently…forget the politic part and some of the comments are interesting beneath scroll for those: (if the link takes ok)


        1. Or at least be friendly with bats at a distance. I still think from time to time about the fruit bat I unknowingly ate in Liberia. It was palatable, and I didn’t suffer any ill effects, but African bat species certainly have been studied as vectors of disease. Given the circumstances, I’m not sure I could have (or would have) gotten out of eating it even if I’d known what it was. When I finally found out, it was just one of those things.

          I read Nautilus, and came across that article. I’ve not read it in its entirety yet, but this is a good time to do so. Thanks for linking to it, and reminding me of it.

  15. I’ve never been to the coast in Texas. I have been to Austin, and Judy has been to Houston a few times for business. After retirement I’d like to take a long road trip down there. When are the best times to visit?

    1. Generally speaking, I’d say March-May, or October-November. Mid-to-late September can be very nice, too, but there’s always the lingering threat of hurricanes. After October 1, although there may be a storm, it’s much more unlikely, and those that develop usually aren’t as strong, and are shorter-lived.
      We have a “second spring” in the fall, with many wildflowers that begin blooming then, so even though spring is the time for bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, there are other delights in the fall.

    1. On the other hand, some are celebrating the increased presence of people, like the birds and squirrels outside my window who are in the process of figuring out that, if they beg obviously enough, they just might get some extra treats!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.