Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
STATUS: Common throughout range.
HABITAT: Inhabits quiet or slow-moving, often rather murky waters. Usually found in wooded freshwater swamps, streams, or tree-fringed lakes with water lilies, lotus, and other aquatic vegetation. Found in cypress swamps, freshwater sloughs of sawgrass and reeds with scattered willow clumps, or mangrove-bordered salt and brackish bays, lagoons, and tidal streams. Primarily a freshwater bird, but will range to marine coasts. Often perches with wings partly extended to dry.
SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Quiet, sheltered waters with some trees for perching.
NEST: Nests in small groups with herons and egrets. May appropriate nests of common and snowy egrets or little blue herons, or construct its own. Nests are usually 3 to 10 feet above water.
FOOD: Catches food by diving under water from the surface, while flying over water, or from a perch. Eats primarily fish, but also takes aquatic insects, crayfish, shrimp, leeches, tadpoles, frog eggs, water snakes, young alligators, and small terrapins.
REFERENCES: Oberholser 1974a, Palmer 1962, Pough 1951, Sykes in Farrand 1983a, Terres 1980.