Tiny Miracles at the Gatorland Rookery

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This morning I had the privilege of watching a baby bird hatch at the Gatorland Rookery.  It was incredible.  Watching the little bird break out of the egg and enter the world was an amazing experience.  And a long one!  The last time I watched an egg hatch, it was a Double-Crested Cormorant, and it happened really fast.  First I was looking at an egg, then the mother was poking at it and ruffling her wings, and then a baby was peeking out of the shell.  It happened so fast that I wasn’t even sure I’d seen the hatch moment until I got home and saw my pictures.  Well, today was different.  I sat watching this nest for three hours as the baby worked his way out of the egg.  It was a very fun morning!

Early on in the morning, I noticed the cute pair of Snowy Egret babies that would peek out when their mom stood up.  There was still an egg in the nest, and I thought to myself that it would be fun to watch the egg hatch.  But no way, I didn’t expect it would actually happen!  I passed by the nest several times throughout the morning to check on the little family.  I was very excited to see the pip in the egg.  That’s the little hole that the baby first makes when he decides to come out.

The small hole, or pip, in the egg is the first indication that the baby will hatch.  Gatorland Rookery.

The next time I went by the nest, the hole had gotten significantly bigger, and I could begin to see the baby’s feathers inside the egg.  I’ve read that the parents and baby communicate while the bird is still inside the egg, and I watched the two older siblings as they danced and fussed.  I wonder if they were calling to their little brother and telling him to come out?  “The food that Mom just regurgitated was really good, come on out to have some!”

Starting to see the baby inside. Gatorland Rookery.

The hole got bigger as the baby bird tried to come out.  I wonder how it feels to go from the inside of a dark warm egg and break your way out into a whole new world?  Mom sat protectively on her nest, only standing for a few moments here and there.  Alligators around her were doing their mating calls, the Great Egret chicks above her were begging for food, and the Snowy Egret teenagers right next to her were defending their nest from other Snowies who were stealing nesting material.  Chaos was all around this little guy as he worked his way out.

Count the beaks – there are three babies in this first portrait of the whole family! Mom looks on as the baby emerges. Gatorland Rookery.

By this time I had parked myself in front of the nest.  Other photographers came and went, but most didn’t have the patience to sit and watch.  There were two layers of barbed wire fencing between me and the nest, and of course the inevitable twigs and branches that are always in the way at a rookery.  But I was hooked on watching this little family.  I was rewarded for my patience when the baby finally emerged…

He’s out! I was surprised when his head was the last to come out. Gatorland Rookery.

Almost as soon as the baby hatched, Mom fed her other two.  The newborn flopped into the back of the nest and rested as the shell lay empty beside him.  After half an hour or so, Mom regurgitated some more and fed the tiny baby.  I was glad to see that the other two let him eat it in peace.  Often the older stronger siblings dominate over the weaker, younger siblings.  I hope that won’t be the case in this nest.

Food for the older kids while the newborn rests. Gatorland Rookery.

After about an hour or so, the baby started wiggling around, and finally showed his head a little.  I wished he’d landed in the front of the nest where he’d be easier to see!  Alas, the birds rarely listen to the photographers…funny thing about that!

Three squirmy little babies. The newborn is on the far left. Gatorland Rookery.

I was hoping that Mom would toss the egg out of the nest, but she didn’t.  After the baby hatched, she sat on the chicks for long intervals.  I imagine that even the older babies are still not regulating their own temperatures, and I know the baby still needed Mom’s warmth as he adjusted to his new world.  I begged Mom to stand up, and sometimes she humored me and did it, only to sit down again before I could get focused on the babies!  My last shots were of the baby by himself.  He hasn’t yet learned about head angle.  But with all the photographers that pass through the Gatorland Rookery, he will learn!  Good luck, little guy!

One last portrait of Baby. Gatorland Rookery.

Want to learn more about nature photography at Gatorland Rookery?

Check out my Gatorland Rookery page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!

Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!

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