Stalking at Dusk
The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. —Anais Nin
One of the birds I most enjoying watching in our wetlands and swamps is the Great Egret. It’s hard not to be captivated by these creatures — the epitome of ethereal beauty, grace and strength, they wade, stalk and fly in our waters with balletic poise. 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. I recently watched one lovely Great Egret hunting at dusk in our nearby Everglades preserve.
Boasting brilliant all-white plumage, the feathers of the Great Egret are stunning, almost unreal; sadly, these beautiful birds were hunted mercilessly towards the end of the 19th century — nearly to the point of extinction, their numbers decimated by 95 percent. Their breeding plumage was especially prized, and their treasured feathers were used in hats across the globe. During the breeding season, the Great Egret displays long, elegant plumes on its back, which are used in courtship displays. During this time, the lore (the area between the bill and the eyes) also turns a vibrant green (see The Greening of The Great Egret).
But 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 for other wildlife and flora….
In 1953 the Great Egret was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, the environmental organization formed to protect birds.