E....is for Egret
The elegant Great Egret is a dazzling sight in many a North American wetland. Slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, these are still large birds with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.
Great Egrets wade in shallow water (both fresh and salt) to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They typically stand still and watch for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Then, with startling speed, the egrets strike with a jab of their long neck and bill.
Among the most elegant of the herons, the slender Snowy Egret sets off immaculate white plumage with black legs and brilliant yellow feet. Those feet seem to play a role in stirring up or herding small aquatic animals as the egret forages. Breeding Snowy Egrets grow filmy, curving plumes that once fetched astronomical prices in the fashion industry, endangering the species. Early conservationists rallied to protect egrets by the early twentieth century, and this species is once again a common sight in shallow coastal wetlands.
Snowy Egrets wade in shallow water to spear fish and other small aquatic animals. While they may employ a sit-and-wait technique to capture their food, sometimes they are much more animated, running back and forth through the water with their wings spread, chasing their prey.
The short, thick-necked 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. This stocky white heron has yellow plumes on its head and neck during breeding season. 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.
A medium to large heron of shallow salt water, the Reddish Egret comes in a dark and a white form. It is a very active forager, often seen running, jumping, and spinning in its pursuit of fish
Photos taken at The Viera Wetlands, Gatorland, Black Point Drive
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