SIB “Bird of the Week” – Great Egret

Great Egret – Ardea alba
Length:  39″; Wingspan: 51″; Weight: 30 oz.

Great Egret - Charles Moore
Great Egret – Charles Moore

The Great Egret, is also known as the White Egret, Common Egret, Great White Egret or the Large Great Egret. It occurs in tropical and warm temperate regions of the world including Central Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and portions of North, Central and South America.

Standing over three feet tall, the Great Egret is the largest white bird within its range and is distinguished from similar birds by its large size, solid white plumage, yellow bill, and dark grey to black legs and feet.

The neck of the Great Egret is extremely flexible and an adult bird can swallow a one-pound fish with ease, an amazing feat considering that on average adult birds may weigh just over two pounds themselves.

Each breeding season they carry out elaborate courting displays and behaviors and they are believed to be monogamous during a breeding season. It is unknown if they mate for  life.

Great Egret - Charles Moore
Great Egret – Charles Moore

Males establish a territory, select a nesting site, begin to build a nest and initiate mating displays that attract females. Breeding plumage consists of numerous delicate ornamental feathers. The birds display these feathers by holding them up, puffing them out, and spreading them over their backs. At the same time they extend their neck skyward and pump it up and down several times. Great Egrets make dry, croaking sounds, nasal squeals, and other harsh calls. They are particularly vocal during breeding season as they go about establishing territories, courting, forming pairs, and maintaining pair bonds. You just might hear something that sounds like this near their rookeries around the island.

Nests may be 100 or more feet high and frequently are directly above water. They are about three feet across, a foot deep, and lined with Spanish moss or other soft vegetation. Nests are continually repaired during the nesting season.

Great Egret - Charles Moore
Great Egret – Charles Moore

Typically two to four light blue-green eggs appear over a several day period and the adults alternately sit on the eggs. Hatching occurs in 23 to 27 days. Chicks are very aggressive and frequently weaker chicks are tossed out of the nest and don’t survive.

Initially, the parents regurgitate food into the nest but once the chicks are of sufficient size the parent bird feeds the chicks by placing its bill completely inside the mouth of each waiting chick.

Newborn chicks have long thin fuzzy feathers that protrude from their head as if they are affected by static electricity.

Five to six weeks after hatching the chicks attempt their first flights. The average life span of a Great Egret is 15 years but some have been known to live more than twenty years in captivity.

Adult Great Egrets have no predators and only crows, vultures, and raccoons are reported to prey on the eggs and fledglings. However, their beautiful plumage nearly resulted in their demise. Ninety-five percent of the North American Great Egret population was killed for feathers to decorate hats and other clothing items in the 19th century.

Great Egret - Charles Moore
Great Egret – Charles Moore

Today, national and international treaties protect the Great Egret and their populations are thriving in North America. Their greatest threat today is the loss of habitat through drainage and the clearing of wetlands. The logo of the National Audubon Society is the Great Egret in full flight. This logo symbolizes the success of past and current conservation efforts protecting these magnificent birds and serves as a constant reminder that without such conservation efforts many to the world’s most beautiful wonders would be lost forever.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Range map of Great Egret - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Range map of Great Egret – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Article submitted by:  Charles Moore
Photographs provided by:  Charles Moore

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

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