April 2014 Bird Photo of the Month

Yummy! Afternoon snack! © Karen Schuster
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

How proud this Cattle Egret looks, having caught this huge grasshopper! Their stomach contents consist of about 30% orthopterida (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and locusts) and about 60% horseflies. Around our cattle pastures, you may have seen small white egrets next to the cattle, or even standing on top of them. Their gawky, head-pumping walk, short legs and chunky neck compared to the sleeker appearance of other white egrets distinguish it as a Cattle Egret. Notice them foraging behind tractors or near the grazing cow’s head or front feet; where tasty insects are first stirred up. Because Cattle Egrets reduce the need for costly pesticides, knowledgeable cattle ranchers respect them.

Doesn’t this Cattle Egret look beautiful with its tawny breeding head plumes, bright orange-red bill with purple facial skin and bright red irises? Karen Schuster photographed it with her Canon 50 f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 100, 200 mm lens in April at the height of the breeding season. Their colorful plumage lasts only a few months, after which they molt into mostly all white feathers, all yellow bill and legs. Some birds become stained green or brown by feeding in mowed grass. Northern populations migrate to warmer climes in Nov-Feb, adding numbers to our Florida resident Cattle Egrets.

Originally from Africa and tropical Asia, Cattle Egrets have exhibited phenomenal dispersal to all parts of the world, the greatest natural expansion recorded for any bird. They have thrived on grassland creation by humans. First recorded in Surinam, South America in 1877, this long distant flyer evidently crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Africa. Their first record of arriving in Florida was not until 1941, but since then, it has spread north to Newfoundland, across the US to California, and even to Alaska by the 1970s. Breeding has been confirmed in all but four of our contiguous states.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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