Wednesday, April 23, 2014 · 7:49 a.m.

Riverwalk Bird of the Week: Great egret

Great egrets are tall, long-legged wading birds with S-curved necks and dagger-like bills. In flight, the long neck is tucked in, and the legs extend far beyond the tip of the short tail. (Photo: Charles Dean)

The folks in the Riverwalk Bird Club don't just watch birds. The group includes some excellent photographers. Outdoors is happy to share their great photos by featuring a Bird of the Week.

This week, we feature a great egret, taken by Charles Dean.

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 19th century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.

Interesting facts
—The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.

—Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common, and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls and herons and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.

—The oldest-known great egret was 22 years, 10 months old and was banded in Ohio.

—The pristinely white great egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late 19th century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.

—In mixed-species colonies, great egrets are often the first species to arrive, and their presence may induce nesting among other species.

—Great egrets fly slowly but powerfully; with just two wing beats per second, their cruising speed is near 25 miles an hour.

—Though it mainly hunts while wading, the great egret occasionally swims to capture prey or hovers (somewhat laboriously) over the water and dips for fish.

This information is courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Reader's Recap
Daily news delivered directly to your inbox.   sign up
Press Esc to close