Scientific Name: Ardea alba
Family: Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Description: A tall, stately white wader of quiet waters. Common, especially in the south, it may wander far to the north in late summer. Nearly wiped out in the United States in the late 1800s, when its plumes were sought for use in fashion, the Great Egret made a comeback after early conservationists put a stop to the slaughter and protected its colonies; as a result, this bird became the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
Habitat: Marshes, ponds, shores, mud flats. Usually forages in rather open situations, as along edges of lakes, large marshes, shallow coastal lagoons and estuaries; also along rivers in wooded country. Usually nests in trees or shrubs near water, sometimes in thickets some distance from water, sometimes low in marsh.
Feeding Behavior: Forages mostly by standing or walking in shallow water, waiting for fish to come near, then catching them with rapid thrust of bill. May feed in flocks or in association with other herons, cormorants, ibises, sometimes stealing food from smaller birds. Also forages in open fields, sometimes around cattle.
Diet: Mostly fish. Aside from fish, also eats crustaceans, frogs, salamanders, snakes, aquatic insects. In open fields may catch grasshoppers, rodents. Has been seen catching small rails and other birds.
Eggs: 3-4, sometimes 1-6. Pale blue-green. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-26 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young may clamber out of nest at 3 weeks, able to fly at 6-7 weeks.
Nesting: Probably first breeds at age of 2-3 years. Sometimes nests in isolated pairs, usually in colonies, often mixed with other wading birds, cormorants, Anhingas. In mixed colonies, Great Egrets tend to nest high. Male selects nest area and displays there, at first driving away all other birds, later courting females. Courtship displays include calling, circular display flight, stretching neck up with bill pointed skyward. Nest: Site is in tree or shrub, usually 10-40' above ground or water, sometimes very low in thicket or marsh, sometimes up to 90' high in tall cypress. Nest (built by both sexes) a platform of sticks, sometimes substantial.
Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young may clamber out of nest at 3 weeks, able to fly at 6-7 weeks.
Conservation Status: Populations were decimated by plume hunters in late 1800s, recovered rapidly with protection early in 20th century. In recent decades, breeding range has been expanding gradually northward, while there is some evidence that southern populations have declined.
Notes: Images captured at Town Lake in Austin.