Hey guys, welcome back! Today we’ve made it to our first heron, the Great Egret! One of the first birds we’ve covered whose range barely makes it into Canada, as they’re only found in extreme southern Canada during the summer months. A common summer resident throughout U.S. wetlands, they spend their winters in the southeast and Mexico. The Great Egret is one of the largest herons in North American, only slightly smaller than the Great Blue Heron. But wait, it’s an egret, not a heron, right? Well, I guess technically if you go by the species name, but taxonomically, they’re in the same family, so egrets and herons are, for all intents and purposes, the same thing.
The Great Egret is an all white bird, that during breeding season has long frilly plumes. These plumes were the impetus for the creation of the National Audubon Society. Birds at the turn of the 20th century were very often killed for their feathers, to the point where many species were on the verge of extinction. It’s said that the feathers were more valuable by weight than gold! The Audubon Society was formed to protect birds, and they took the Great Egret on as its mascot.
While it is an all white bird, ID can occasionally be tricky. Just remember to look at the beak and legs/feet. The Great Egret has a yellow beak (and during breeding season bright green skin around the beak as seen in the picture at the top of this post), and black legs and feet. There are other herons that are all white, but they don’t share these features. The other white herons (except for the white version of the Great Blue Heron) are also much smaller than the Great Egret.
In New York, Central Park was the summer home to many Great Egrets. It seemed each of the Park’s bodies of water had its own egret (or sometimes two.) They usually showed up in early to mid March, and went back south in October. Here in St. Louis, however, there were two Great Egrets that stayed all winter. It was certainly strange to see a bird so synonymous with summer wading around a lake in a snow storm! One of the egrets realized he could get free food when the pelicans at the zoo got fed, so he hung out in the Zoo all winter! Hey, free and easy food I guess. I know the keepers there try to not give any food to the egret (they want him to not rely on being fed, but rather catching his own food.) In any case, it’s still kind of humorous to me to see the egret sitting there waiting to swoop in on the pelicans lol! That ought to wrap it up for today. Next time, we finally get to our first warbler species! The Pine Warbler! See you all then!