December 2016 Bird Photo of the Month

Drama at the tide pool! © Dawn Currie
Dark Phase and Light Phase Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens)

Drama at the tidal pool! During breeding season in July, Reddish Egrets seek quantities of small fishes to feed their hungry young. They work overtime to gather enough food, particularly at low tide when fishes become concentrated. The Reddish Egret discovers an interloper too close to its claimed fishing hole, and flies up in aggressive posture to ward off the other Egret. The intruder, another Reddish Egret but in the white phase, responds in sudden alarm and defense, then moves away. A marvelous photo catching the action by Dawn Currie!

White-phase Reddish Egrets breed with dark-phase Reddish Egrets as they are the same species. So, as with human eye and hair color, white and dark phases in birds may occur within families and siblings. The bicolored bill, dark legs, eye and lores remain the same. Although similarly aggressive postures may be seen in mating birds, neither of these birds show the shaggy plumes on head, neck, or upper breast indicative of breeding plumage. Instead of bicolored bills of adults, both have all black bills, indicting immature development, thus this is more likely sibling rivalry rather than mating. White-phase Reddish Egrets are easily mis-identified as Great or Snowy Egrets or immature Little Blue Herons, all of which are white. However, adult Reddish Egrets are distinguished by their bicolored blue with black tip bills and black legs.

John James Audubon, 1843 remarked, “There [in the coastal mud or sand flats], twenty or thirty, sometimes as many as a hundred, may be seen wading up to the heel (or knee-joint as it is usually called) in pursuit of prey, or standing in silence awaiting the approach of an animal on which it feeds… until the advance of the tide forces them to the land.” How plentiful then! Sadly, today in the U.S., the Reddish Egret is the rarest of our heron species, mostly unknown as its habit is to fish in isolation.

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

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