The Waders: Great Egret

Now that it’s springtime, the wading birds have arrived. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds (although shorebirds wade through water too). Wading birds include herons, egrets, ibises, flamingos, storks, spoonbills, and night-herons. This week’s featured wader is the stunning Great Egret.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)


  • Large, slender white bird
  • Long, S-shaped neck
  • Dagger-like yellow-orange bill
  • Black legs
  • Green lores
  • Breeding adults display aigrettes, long feathery plumes its back
Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)


Great Egret range map (Image via Cornell Lab of Ornithology,


Marine, freshwater, and brackish wetlands. Ponds, lakes, marshes, impoundments, tidal flats, streams, rivers


Small fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, birds, small mammals. Wades through the water or stands still, and uses spear-like bill to catch prey. May forage alone or in small groups.

Great Egret Swallowing a Fish (Image by BirdNation)


  • Courtship: Breeding adults will grow large aigrettes (plumes) for display. Displays include preening, holding/shaking a twig in its bill, and neck stretching. Great Egrets are monogamous for the breeding season, but its unknown if pair bonds last multiple years.
  • Nesting Site: Males will begin constructing a nest, and the female will help complete it. Nests are usually over water in a tree, about 100 feet off the ground. Often found in mixed colonies of other wading birds.
  • Young: 1-6 eggs are incubated by both parents for 23-27 days. The chicks are covered in white down, and are tended to for 21-25 days. The chicks are fed by regurgitation. They will usually leave the nest about 3 weeks, and can fly within 6-7 weeks.
Great Egret with breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)


Guttural croak.


In the nineteenth and early twentieth, 95% of the North American Great Egrets were hunted for their plumes. Plume hunting was banned around 1910, and the population has recovered considerably. Populations are now considered stable. Breeding ranges have been moving northward in recent years.

Fun Facts: 

  • Great Egrets are also found in part of Asia, Africa, South America, and Southern Europe.
  • The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
  • A breeding colony can easily have over 1,000 Great Egret nests.
great egret 3
Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)


Happy World Penguin Day!

Happy World Penguin Day! There are 18 species of penguins in the world, so in honor of World Penguin Day, here is a fact for each penguin species.  (If you want to learn facts about penguins in general, check out our World Penguin Day post from last year.)


  • Adélie Penguins breed further south than any other bird in the world.
  • African Penguins use a donkey-like braying sound to communicate, earning them the nickname “Jackass Penguin”.
  • 99% of a Chinstrap Penguin’s diet is Antarctic krill.
Chinstrap Penguin (Image via
  • The largest of all penguins is the Emperor Penguin. Emperors can dive up to 1,850 feet, the deepest of all birds. A single dive can last up to 20 minutes.
  • Erect-crested Penguins are endemic to New Zealand. They have most extreme egg dimorphism of all birds. The second egg of a clutch tends to be around 81% bigger than the first egg.
  • It’s rare to find a Fiordland Penguin during the day. Since they are so timid, they tend to be more active at night.
  • Galápagos Penguins are the only penguins found north of the Equator.
  • Unlike their closest relatives, the Adélies and Chinstraps, Gentoo Penguins typically remain on their breeding grounds year-round.
  • Humboldt Penguins aren’t only black and white, they’re also pink! They have pink patches of bare skin on their face and under their wings to help keep them cool in their warm environment.
Humboldt Penguin (Image via Santa Barbara Zoo,
  • King Penguins take 14 to 16 months to fledge a single chick, which is the longest breeding cycle of all birds.
  • Little Penguins are also known as Little Blue or Fairy Penguins. These nocturnal penguins are only 13-15 inches tall.
  • The largest of all crested penguins, Macaroni Penguins spend up to 6 months foraging at sea.
  • Magellanic Penguins are the only off-shore foraging and migratory penguins of the genus Spheniscus. Other penguins in the genus Spheniscus include African, Humboldt, and Galápagos.
  • Not only are Northern Rockhopper Penguins extremely feisty, they are highly social and live in dense colonies.
Northern Rockhopper Penguin By Arjan Haverkamp [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Northern and Southern Rockhopper Penguins used to be considered the same species, but it turns out they are genetically different. Southern Rockhoppers are the smallest of the crested penguins, standing only slightly taller than Little Blues.
  • Royal Penguins are perhaps the most colorful of all the penguins. They have thick orange bills with pink around the base. Their crest is orange, yellow, and black. Yellow feathers can be found above the bill, forehead and eyes. They also have beige claws and light pink feet.
  • Snares Penguins are closely related to Fiordland Penguins. Both species have thick red short bills, but Snares have a pink patch at the base of the bill. They are found on the Snares Islands of New Zealand.
  • Yellow-eyed Penguins are known to the Maori of New Zealand as Hoiho, or “noisy shouter”. They are one of the rarest and most endangered penguins in the world, with estimates of only 4,000 individuals.

This photo of Penguin Place is courtesy of TripAdvisor

What’s your favorite penguin species? Tell me about it in the comments! (My favorite species is the Little Blue 🙂 )

Cape May Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, we spent the afternoon birding in Cape May, NJ.

Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP)

At the Ponds: Green-winged Teals, Blue-winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, Forster’s Terns, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, Purple Martins, Mute Swans, Bufflehead, Gadwalls, American Coots, Osprey, Field Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, Savannah Sparrows, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, female Red-breasted Merganser. Also saw a Muskrat.


On the Beach:

American Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Great Black-backed Gulls, Northern Gannets, Common Loons, Forster’s Terns, Double-crested Cormorants (in V-formation flying)


One of my favorite moments of the day took place on the way back to the parking lot. There were 2 Northern Mockingbirds doing the “wing flash display”. In this display, the mockingbird will open its wings to show their bright white wing patches. Some speculate that this movement is used to startle insects. However, even mockingbird species without white patches will use the move, so people are still not quite sure the purpose of the display. I wrote about the wing flash display last year, so it was cool to see it in person!

Wing Flash Display (Image by BirdNation)

Another one of my favorite things that happened today were DOLPHINS! I saw dolphins in the wild for the first time ever! I was ecstatic to see them, as I have loved dolphins since I was a kid.

Dolphin Fin (Image by David Horowitz)

South Cape May Meadows (SCMM)

The Meadows was wading/shore bird central today! Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets, Killdeer, American Oystercatchers, Glossy Ibis, Semipalmated Plover


Other birds included Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Laughing Gulls, White-throated Sparrows, American Crows, and Barn Swallows. Bonus mammals: 2 Muskrats fighting with each other

Mute Swan on Nest (Image by BirdNation)

Overall we observed 46 bird species and two mammal species (muskrat and dolphin). It was a lovely afternoon in Cape May :-).

Sights of Spring

Over the past 2 weeks, Dave and I have gone birding 7 times. We’ve had an interesting variety of early spring weather conditions, including chilly 40s and rain in the 70s. Here are some of my favorite moments from the last two weeks. (I don’t have pictures from all 7 trips)

Palmyra Cove Nature Park (3/23/18): first of season Killdeer and Osprey. Also saw a Muskrat


Barnegat Lighthouse State Park (3/25/18)


Palmyra Cove Nature Park (4/4/18): It started raining when we arrived, so we ended up walking in the middle of a short rainstorm. It was a really cool experience. There were still a lot of birds out, and by the time we finished walking the rain had stopped (29 species in total, including a first of season Palm Warbler and many Eastern Phoebes). We also had a chance to watch the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge open, found a goose egg, saw interesting fungi, and discovered a bunch of forest snails.


Island Beach State Park (4/6/18): Saw about 200 Northern Gannets and many Osprey. First of season Snowy Egrets and Laughing Gull