A great egret comes calling

As I was driving past my neighbor’s home recently, a white figure in the green grass caught my eye. The ghostly bird turned out to be a great egret, also called the American egret and sometimes referred to as a white heron.

I’ve photographed great egrets in the Upper Delaware River region before and they are usually shy birds. But this one seemed especially interested in exploring my neighbor’s house, almost as if it were looking for an entrance. Casually, it strolled up the long driveway, aware of my presence, but barely giving heed to me and my camera.

The approximately two-foot-tall bird approached the front steps, pausing and seemingly assessing the structure before moving along the foundation and investigating the garage doors. Eventually, it took flight toward a nearby lake.

Although the most commonly sighted heron in the region is the great blue heron, great egrets can also be encountered in or near wetlands, boggy lakes and ponds. Like great blue herons, they consume amphibians, fish, small mammals and invertebrates such as crayfish.

Great egrets in flight are easy to identify, with their heads tucked back into their shoulders and their legs held straight out to the rear. The great egret’s legs and feet are glossy black and its bill is yellow. The striking bird has an average wingspan of 55 inches. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, great egrets achieve a cruising speed of 25 miles per hour with only two wingbeats.

The bird’s white plumage nearly drove it to extinction by the early 20th century, as the long white body plumes were coveted as adornments for hats. The National Audubon Society, which selected the great egret as its symbol, was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers. Strong conservation laws have helped the species to begin repopulating its range.

The great egret appears on the list of 90 birds identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Pennsylvania’s 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan. Visit https://tinyurl.com/yan22z4k to learn more.


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