The Beautiful Great Egret

Discover the Great Egret!

All summer long on my commute home from work, I had been seeing a group of Great Blue Herons in a marshy, beaver pond right off the highway. I was surprised that there were so many together, usually three to six at a time, feeding in the water. One day, I noticed other birds with them that looked just like the herons, but were pure white. A little research proved the birds were Great Egrets—similar in size and appearance to the Great Blue Heron, but with snow-white plumage. Each day I’d see anywhere from three to five birds standing and feeding right alongside the herons. Unfortunately, the highway was too busy to pull over and really observe the birds, but I felt lucky to see them as I whizzed past.

Great Egrets are magnificent birds, standing three feet in height with a four-foot wingspan. They are the largest of the five species of egrets in the U.S. They can be identified by their large size, large yellow bill and long, black legs. During breeding season, both males and females develop a long cloak of plumes that extend over the back and past their tails. The National Audubon Society was partly formed to protect the birds from being killed for their beautiful, pure white plumes and in 1953, chose the Great Egret in flight as their symbol.

The Great Egret is now a common bird in the U.S. and can be seen in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, coastal tide flats, rivers, streams and flooded fields. They feed mostly on fish, and also eat frogs, crayfish, small mammals and reptiles. They stalk their prey slowly and methodically, then strike out quickly to stab with their long bill. Their nests are built of sticks and greens and can be found in trees or shrubs with other herons and egrets. Great Egrets are migratory in their northern ranges, but are very influenced by temperature. During mild winters, they may stay in their summer breeding grounds as long as the waters stay open. If the waters freeze, Great Egrets migrate southward, either alone or in loose V-shaped flocks.

I haven’t seen the egrets in the beaver pond for about a week now, and I don’t know if they’ve moved south yet or not. I hope I see them again before the snow flies!

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  • Deborah August 25, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    I found some in Cobourg, Ontario in June, I drove down the following weekend and they were still there 2 egrets and one blue heron, then only the heron remained through July and August, I was thrilled, I too had never seen the Egret especially in Ontario, and was fascinated as I am with the herons, I have a 150-500 mm lens but the white is difficult to get in focus, I usually aim for the beak and eye, but I got some beauties, email me your email address I can send a couple along.

  • Al Lochtefeld August 27, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Deborah (August 25, 2012 at 2:32 pm),
    I also find the Great White Egret a beautiful bird. I’ve observed them, on ocassion, here in Ohio in the lakes and rivers and also in Florida in the marshland areas.
    I would be interested if you would share several of the images you captured in Cobourg, Ontario in June.
    Al Lochtefeld

  • Deborah Dixon December 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Al just saw your message now, what is your email so I can send you a couple of my images of the egret, I wish it was summer, it’s going to be a long wait