Ardea Alba

Family: Ardeidae

We saw a colony of 8 great egrets on March 13, 2014.   This is the first time we have seen a colony of these birds on the creek.  They can be found singly or in colonies as this group we saw.

Size:  38-40 inches long, wingspan 52-57 inchesweight 35.3 oz avg.  (Smaller than a great blue heron, larger than a snowy egret)

Color:  white feathers, black legs and claws, pointed yellow bill.

Habitat: freshwater, brackish and marine  wetlands; year round residents of Florida.

Food:   Carnivorous — small fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals and invertebrates such as crayfish, prawns, shrimp, polychaete worms, isopods, dragonflies and damsel flies, whirligig beetles, giant water bugs and grasshoppers.

Reproduction: Monogomous pair during breeding season, but not known whether this continues after breeding season.  Early in breeding season they grown long plumes on their backs which are raised in courtship displays, males being the more ostentatious.

Nesting:  Male builds a nest platform with long sticks and twigs before pairing up with a female, then both complete building the nest, though often, the male completes the nestbuilding himself.  It is usually 3 feet across and  1 foot deep and lined with plant material, about 100 feet off the ground or near the top of a tree.  Sometimes they nest on the ground.

Eggs:   1-6, smooth, pale greenish blue, 2.2-2.4 inches x 1.6-1.7 inches, 23-27 days of incubation, 1-2 broods, hatchlings have long white down.

Additional information:

More than 95% of these birds were killed to supply the millinery trade in the late 19th and early 20th century.   Plume hunting was banned around 1910 and the population has recovered, except that contamination from runoff from fields or sewage fields continue to be threats.  The population seems to be currently stable.

The near extinction of the birds led to a conservation movement.  Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers and the Great White Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

These birds are frequently found with other wading birds such as herons and ibises.

(Source:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology)