Improving Our Bird Brains, Part 2: Great White Egret

A Great White Egret standing in a sawgrass meadow, Everglades National Park.

We’re improving our bird brains, by studying up on some of the weird-ass birds my wife and I encountered in Florida.

In this here Part 2, we get learned about the Great White Egret.

This majestic, albescent bird is also known as the Great White Heron, or simply, the Great Egret. They’re found in the southern United States, from the eastern seaboard all the way west to California. They’ve been known to migrate as far north as Massachusetts, and many Great Egrets migrate to South America in the winter.

We saw a ton of them in Florida, but about a hundred years ago they were scarce. You see, egrets have long, white plumes, called aigrettes, and during the late 19th and early 20th centuries these aigrettes were in high demand. Ladies used them to adorn their ostentatious hats. Hell, you were nobody if you didn’t have a big white feather in your hat.

Marie Antoinette’s head looks very attractive with aigrettes in her cap, don’cha think?

So hunters in those days sought these plumes, to sell to the ladies. And they decimated about 95% of the egret population. Conservationists became alarmed and waged a campaign to save the Great Egret from extinction. They succeeded, and this beautiful white bird made a great comeback, and also became the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

Here’s some trivia that is probably not worth including in this post: Did you know that Frank Sinatra kept a few egrets in a home aviary? Well, he sang about this in one of his hits, with the lyrics, “Egrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . .”

They’re not called Greats for nothing. Great White Egrets exceed three feet in length, with a wingspan more than four feet.

In Florida, their nesting habitat is primarily on mangrove islands within Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, and Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Both of these refuges are in the Florida Keys.

This egret is fishing near mangroves, in Mrazek Pond, Everglades National Park.

Their nests tend to be high up, and like a chauvinist, the male selects where to build it. He courts the female by making calls (after first obtaining her cell number). He also flies around in a sexy circle. And to really get her going, he stretches his long neck way up in the air, pointing his slender beak skyward. I think men can relate to this particular technique.

It can be rough, growing up as an egret. You tend to have two or three siblings, and if food is scarce and you’re the weakest, one of your big brothers or sisters will kill you. But if you manage to survive that, then after about 6-7 weeks of drinking your parents’ vomit, you can fly away and start a life of your own.

Then you can do things your way, and perhaps have a few egrets of your own.

Some juvenile Great White Egrets have gray plumage that gradually transforms to white.

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