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)

Description:

  • 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
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

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Great Egret range map (Image via Cornell Lab of Ornithology, allaboutbirds.org)

Habitat: 

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

Diet:

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.

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Great Egret Swallowing a Fish (Image by BirdNation)

Breeding/Nesting:

  • 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.
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Great Egret with breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Vocalizations: 

Guttural croak.

Conservation:

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.
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

 

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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