The Florida Egret, Back From Near Extinction
Sometimes, the most peaceful spot you can find in Florida is at the edge of the water.
The Great Egret, the official symbol for The National Audubon Society, is also known as the Great White Heron, the Great White Egret, and the American Egret, as well as the Large Egret, the White Egret, and the Common Egret. Found on both coasts of the United States and as far south as Central and South America, its yellow beak and long legs, which are gray or black, and size (the Great Egret is approximately three feet tall), as well as their snow-white plumage, sets this species apart from other members of the heron family.
The Snowy Egret sub-species can be differentiated in several ways. Much smaller in size, their yellow feet and black legs and bills make them easily distinguishable. The little blue heron has short gray legs and its gray bill has a black tip. A pure white subspecies of the Blue Heron is also included in the egret group, as well as Sandhill cranes, found inland, gray in color, with shorter necks and wider bodies.
The Reddish Egret has a pink bill with a black tip while Cattle Egrets are smaller and have short yellow bills and pale yellow legs. They roost on a cows back and pick off insects as they land.
Hunted almost to extinction in the late 1800s and early 1900s, state and federal protection have helped the various species to rebound nicely. Once coveted for their pure white feathers, as ladies’ fashion moved from showy hats adorned with the plumage of tropical birds to roadster driving caps, the demand for Egret feathers declined.
They pick my lawn clean of insects, hunt small rodents, and even swallow a snake or two (fascinating to watch) before moving on to the banks of creeks, estuaries, and other shallow waters to hunt fish and crabs and such. Egrets are deliberate hunters, slowly stalking prey, stepping carefully and quietly ever closer until near enough to draw back their head and with a lightning fast forward lunge, stab their quarry with their beak. In defense, a snake will attempt to wrap itself around the bird’s long, thin bill, but herons are adept at slowly and methodically working the slithery creature down its long S curved neck until fully consumed.
Of course, there are times when the hunter becomes the hunted, federal protection or no:
During breeding season, the feathers become fluffier.
Nests are found in the trees (although some choose to nest on the ground), and the pale green-blue eggs (usually 3 to 5 per nest) hatch in about 30 days. The male builds a nest first, and then goes about finding a mate. It is not uncommon for them to nest in groups, alongside herons, ibis, and other water birds. Both parents incubate and tend the nest, aggressively defending it against intruders.
Scientists consider herons to be fairly low on the bird totem pole, pointing to the elliptical eggs they lay and their messy nest construction. Be that as it may, it’s still hard not to love watching them. Graceful in their step, they display an incredible wingspan in the sky, and their stark white feathers stand out against a soft blue Florida sky.