One of the many great things about living in Florida is the amazing variety of birds. If you're a nature photographer, it's even more so. I had seen some of these wonderful creatures but not all of them. Today, I am starting a series of photo essays that I hope will inform my readers with pertinent information plus our images of these beautiful birds.
Today we will start with, in my opinion the most elegant, of the birds of Florida. 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 are tall, long-legged wading birds with long, S-curved necks and long, dagger-like bills.
In flight, the long neck is tucked in and the legs extend far beyond the tip of the short tail. All feathers on Great Egrets are white. Their bills are yellowish-orange and the legs black.
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.
You’ll find Great Egrets in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. They are colonial nesters, typically placing stick nests high in trees, often on islands that are isolated from mammalian predators such as raccoons.
A FEW FUN 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.
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 nineteenth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.
Great Egrets fly slowly but powerfully. With just two wingbeats per second, their cruising speed is around 25 miles an hour.
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.
These birds are smaller than a Great Blue Heron but larger than a Snowy Egret.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these wonderfully elegant birds and seeing our images of them. They can be seen all around Florida and especially in our area of the Treasure Coast. In fact I think they are part of the treasure!!