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The Great Egret

It’s hard not to be captivated by this bird; they’re the epitome of ethereal beauty, grace and strength, stalking and flying through our swamps and wetlands.

Great Egrets, also known as the Great White Egret, the American Egret, the Large Egret or Common Egret, are a common sight in our wild spaces — even our neighborhoods. They’re the largest egret in the Old World — thus the GREAT of their title. In the New World however, Great Blue Herons win the size competition. Great Egrets are large egrets boasting brilliant all-white plumage, and are found across much of the world, from southern Canada to Argentina, and in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Standing approximately 3 feet tall, great egrets have graceful necks, long black legs, and black feet. Their bills are straight, pointed, and yellow.

These egrets feed by stalking, wading in the shallow water, patiently waiting for fish — then grabbing or stabbing their hapless meal with sharp bills. I’ve also seen them dine on amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals.

Great Egret Stalking and Catching Fish… Got It!

They fly with their necks pulled back in an S-curve, like so:

Great Egret in Flight

Great Egret in Flight at the Protected Wetlands, Dusk

The Great Egrets in our wetlands nest in colonies with other egrets and herons. The nest is constructed of sticks and covered with vegetation, and located in trees or shrubs — or on tree-island rookeries. Not all egret hatchlings survive the nestling period — aggression is common, with the larger chicks often killing the smaller or weaker siblings. The oldest known wild Great Egret lived nearly 23 years.

The feathers of the Great Egret are stunning, almost unreal; sadly, these beautiful birds were hunted mercilessly — nearly to the point of extinction, their numbers decimated by 95 percent — towards the end of the 19th century. Their breeding plumage was especially prized, and their treasured feathers were used in hats across the globe. With conservation measures enacted, their numbers grew throughout the 20th century. While wetland habitat loss is once again threatening their existence, these birds have a high adaptability to human habitation. Of course, the loss of wetland ecosystems remains another issue altogether….

Great Egret Coming in for a Landing

In 1953 the Great Egret was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, the environmental organization formed to protect birds.

Logo — The Great Egret in Flight (Courtesy of The National Audubon Society)

During the breeding season, the Great Egret displays long, elegant plumes on its back, which are used in courtship displays. Like a peacock, the feathery plumes spread out like a fan. (Outside the breeding season, these long feathers disappear.) During this time, the lore (the area between the bill and the eyes) may turn vibrant green. Nature’s colors are brilliant, and this picture deserves its own (upcoming) post….

Great Egret Takes a Break While Stalking His Meal

26 Comments Post a comment
  1. My favourite photo is the last one, what a beaut! 🙂

    April 27, 2012
    • Ah, thanks! Aren’t they angelic? That particular pic, with the lighting of the setting sun really intensifies that feeling. (I chose that image for my “About Me” profile — guess I really liked it too!!)

      April 27, 2012
      • They are indeed angelic, hmmm I have wunderlust….. must go travelling!

        April 27, 2012
      • oh, ditto… i’d be happy with a good hike these days!! 🙂

        April 27, 2012
  2. All of these photos are beautiful. What gorgeous birds they are.

    April 27, 2012
    • Thanks so much! They really are spectacular; so elegant and graceful against the backdrop of our swamps. It’s wonderful to see the flash of their intense white as you’re hiking in the depths of the ‘glades.

      April 27, 2012
  3. I love seeing large birds like this one in flight. It’s so interesting to watch them. 🙂

    April 27, 2012
    • They’re so graceful in flight, and the sound of their wings is just amazing (you can see the muscles in one of the images)… Such power. I get so excited when I can capture one in motion! 🙂

      April 27, 2012
  4. Beautiful Photos – Have a Great Weekend!

    April 27, 2012
    • Thanks so much!! Right back at ya. 🙂

      April 27, 2012
  5. Lovely birds! And, fun photos, too. I’m smiling again!

    April 27, 2012
    • YAY! So happy for the smile. 🙂 These lovelies make that an easy feat, I know. Have a wonderful weekend!

      April 27, 2012
  6. Joseph #

    Your pictures are amazing . I have egrets in my back yard along with Black crowned night green,and great blue herons. The egrets and other herons have eaten all of the baby Muscovy duck and Egyptian goose ducklings in the last week. Sad to see no babys but such is nature.

    April 27, 2012
    • Thanks so much!! They’re such a graceful capture — so easy to make beautiful. 🙂 Wow…. You have a lot of herons & egrets in your area! We have a few (depending on their mood), and you’re absolutely right — they’ve also eaten all the Muscovy duck eggs here, too! No babies this year at all. In previous years it wasn’t quite this noticeable, which is interesting… I wonder why?

      April 27, 2012
      • Joseph #

        I actually see the ducklings taken by the Black crowned nights and Great blues. The night’s are patient and carry the ducklings about 40 ft or so and eat them whole. This morning three were lined up but have no ducklings left to take. This is the first year I ever seen so many nights out all day just wating to take them and first year none are left. I am in Delray and its a man made lake behind my house. Even otters sometimes make a visit but they are mean and bold not playful.

        April 27, 2012
      • That’s insane!! Most of the lakes are manmade around here (at least in the neighborhoods)… But yours has become the total nature preserve! That’s great! It really is strange how the Muscovy ducklings weren’t able to make it this year (and this is the first year I’ve seen it like this). I see mainly the Great Egrets/Great Blues…or raccoons…snag the eggs (but never in “live action” like you — WOW). Poor guys; but like you said — NATURE! We quickly become overrun with the Muscovy ducks, otherwise. I’m jealous of your otters tho. 🙂

        April 27, 2012
  7. What gorgeous pictures! 🙂 Thanks for the wonderful information you post as well, many of us would never know about these beautiful birds otherwise. How lucky are you to be exploring this amazing area! – wish I could.
    Many thanks for following my blog, it’s much appreciated. 🙂
    Love, Gabrielle

    April 28, 2012
    • Thanks so much, and I’m glad it was helpful…! The land + wildlife is truly amazing in this area; as I post and write about them, I’m continually amazed and grateful for my proximity. May they be protected in the years to come… 🙂

      April 28, 2012
  8. Thank you for sharing your love for these beautiful creatures through your words and photography. I visited Florida and went into the water areas and forgot my camera—something I will always remember! So thanks to your pictures they capture my memories.
    Blessings, Erin, Bella Bleue

    May 8, 2012
    • You’re so very welcome! Ah, I sadly know the trauma of forgetting my camera…or having the battery die halfway through a hike (the agony!). I’m glad I can share these memories with you; I’m fortunate to live in an area surrounded by these critters. 🙂 Many blessings!

      May 8, 2012
  9. My fav photo is her flying over the wooden bridge/pier…. Awesome!

    May 10, 2012
    • That’s one of my faves as well, so funny! It’s actually the boardwalk to our protected wetlands, an amazing area… I didn’t even see her and hauled out my camera with lightning speed as I saw her begin flight. I’m just amazed I had the right shutter speed! NEVER happens! 🙂

      May 10, 2012
    • Thanks so very much for your nomination and vote of confidence!! ♥

      June 22, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. My Encounters With The Great White Egret « docdavis15
  2. Postcard: The Elephant And The Egret | The Insatiable Traveler

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