SF Weekly Birdwatching: Today on Mission Creek
By John Geluardi
Friday, Oct. 24th
A young snowy egret has been feeding on small crustaceans along the rocky banks of Mission Creek. The bird stands stock still for long periods of time waiting for unwitting prey to come within range of its speak-like black beak.
It’s a blessing anytime you see a snowy egret given that they were almost hunted to extinction because of their beautiful white plumes. The feathers sold for $80 per once (four times the cost of gold at the time) and were very popular at wedding ceremonies. The elegant, pure white feathers were meant to symbolize the bride’s virginity, which may, or may not have been intact.
Fortunately for the snowy egret, when the Audubon Society formed in 1888, it adopted the species as its symbol, which brought attention to its plight and helped save the long-legged wader, nickednamed “Golden Slippers" for its bright yellow feet, from extinction.
A band of brown pelicans have been feeding along Mission Creek near the Fourth Street Bridge. In the afternoon when the shiners, pile, perch and baby herring rise to the surface to feed on insects, the pelicans, with their great ponderous beaks dive straight down from as high as 50 feet plunging into the creek with a splash and then resurfacing to swallow their catch in their balloon-like gullets.
The brown pelicans are social birds that will allow humans to feed them fish, sometimes by hand. Pelicans are sensitive to chemical pollutants absorbed by the fish they eat. The pollutants affect the bird's ability to metabolize calcium, which results in thin-shelled eggs that easily break. Thanks to the banning of many pesticides, the pelican population is on the rise again after many years of decreasing.
Also on Mission Creek, western grebes have been showing up in greater numbers and sandpipers have been scampering around the water’s edge near thickets of tall grass. Also a harbor seal has been swimming between the Third Street and Fourth Street bridges for the last several days. The marine life of Mission Creek is particularly active around dusk this time of year, so c'mon on down the crik.