September 2016 Bird Photo of the Month

Mating ritual © Arlene Willnow
Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Notice the graceful, long plumes on display! The Great Egret you might see hunting for fish, crawdads, or other creatures along the roadside canals or ditches holds their feathers close to their body. These plumes emerge during breeding season, and displayed to attract a mate only at the nest site. This “bow” display is visible in major rookeries where Egrets nest on the very top of the trees. Biologists have observed that females rarely bow in their courtship rituals, hence, this is likely a male Great Egret.

Egret fossils have been found dating back to the Pleistocene era and prehistoric cites from California, Florida, Cuba, and Venezuela. In the early 1800s, they were plentiful in much of the US. From Oregon to Wisconsin to New Jersey and south to Florida. Arlene Willnow’s photo shows this Great Egret taking a bow. Aigrettes, is the French name for these unique breeding plumes, from which Egrets get their name.

In the latter 1800s, aigrettes were used in French and U.S. fashion industry in the millinery trade to make fancy women’s hats. So many Great and Snowy Egrets were slaughtered during the breeding season when hunters shot them for their plumes, leaving eggs and chicks in the nest and carcasses scattered. People were horrified that Egrets would soon all be eliminated in the U.S. This led to the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1913 and the founding of the National Audubon Society. It took 70 years before the Egrets gradually reoccupied their full former range.

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

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