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 Great Egret

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Fairly Common Transient summer resident

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Fall 2000 199
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Search "The Birds of Michigan" text.

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Historical Text
The Birds of Michigan - by: Norman A. Wood
Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, No. 75

Casmerodius albus egretta (Gmelin)
American Egret (A.O.U. 1998: Great Egret)

Uncommon postbreeding visitant in Lower Peninsula. Reported in spring from Wayne and Monroe counties. Not reported from. Michigan between 1890 and 1925. First listed for Michigan by Sager (1839:416).

SPRING.-The species has been reported in Michigan once in late March and several times in April and May. C. L. Hubbs saw an American Egret at Flat Rock, Wayne County, on March 26,1925. Records from the Toledo- Erie marsh area (L. W. Campbell, 1940: 33) include April 2, 1932; April 23, 1938; and May 18, 1939, when 3 birds were seen. N. A. Wood reported a single bird at Rockwood, Monroe County, on May 19, 1934.

SUMMER.-Although not known to breed in Michigan, a few American Egrets have been seen here in summer. Several have been noted in late May and June in the Toledo-Erie marsh area (L. W. Campbell, 1940:33), and on occasion, spring arrivals have been observed to remain in that area throughout the summer. Other summer records include a single bird seen by Walkinshaw in Convis Township, Calhoun County, on June 26, 1940, and 1 photographed by W. C. Beckman at Lake of the Woods, Van Buren County, on June 4, 1941. Frank L. DuMond (1938: 19) mentioned a possible in- stance of breeding near Middleville, Barry County, but this has not been confirmed.

FALL.-The postbreeding visitants arrive usually in late July and August and remain until the end of September. The species is usually recorded only as far north as the Saginaw Bay district, although in 1938 it appeared in Benzie, Charlevoix, and Cheboygan counties. Gibbs (1893:74) stated that the species was "not uncommon occasionally in summer" and that he had seen it in July and repeatedly in August, generally south of Grand Rapids and Flint. Barrows (1912:139) listed a number of records before 1890 but none later. In 1925 a specimen (U.M.M.Z.) was secured in August by John Monk in Dundee Township, Monroe County. A few scattered re- ports were received after 1925 for the southern counties, and in 1930 a general distribution was noted for most of that area. In that year the species was seen north to Delton, Barry County (August 28, by Walkinshaw) ; in Convis Township, Calhoun County (August 24, by Walkinshaw, 1930a; 557) ; at Pontiac Lake, Oakland County (August 26 to September 14, by W. B. Tyrrell, 1931o: 114) ; and in Manistee County (2 seen, August 7 to 9, by F. J. Hermann, 1931: 311). Miller Empey secured a specimen ov. August 11, 1931, and another on July 26, 1932. in the Saginaw Bay area. L. W. Campbell (1940:33) reported a flock of 25 in the Erie marsh area in August, 1933, and Fargo saw a flock of 26 near Jackson on August 31, 1933. In 1939 Verne Dockham recorded 5 American Egrets in Arenac County on August 21, and D. W. Douglass and Max Wakeman recorded 2 in central Gladwin County on August 22. In the summer of 1938, an individual was noted near Pilgrim, Benzie County, on August 11 by Alma H. Prucha, 1 at Charlevoix on July 13 by Mrs. F. J. Fessenden, and 1 near Cheboygan in the first few days of August by 0. S. Pettingill, Jr., Theodora Nelson, and others. The species was not reported between these northern localities and Montcalm and Gratiot counties to the south in 1938. Most of the American Egrets have migrated by the end of September, although a few are occasion- ally found in October. Walkinshaw saw 1 in Convis Township, Calhoun County, on October 13, 1938. L. Whitney Watkins and Fargo recorded 3 in Norvell Township, Jackson County, on October 17, 1938, and 1 there on October 26, 1933. In the Ann Arbor area, 2 were seen by N. A. Wood on October 1, 1938. In the Toledo-Erie marsh area, L. W. Campbell (1940:185,199) has found that the majority of the birds are present on the average only between July 13 and September 24, but he has recorded individuals there as late as October 17 (1936).

Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, No. 75
The Birds of Michigan
By: Norman A. Wood
University of Michigan Press
August 28, 2023

(From: "Life Histories of North American Birds" by: Arthur Cleveland Bent)



The "long white," as it is called by the plume hunters of Florida, is well named. Its long, smooth, slender neck, so expressive in its varied poses, its long, graceful, flowing plumes, reaching far beyond its tail like a bridal train, and the exquisite purity of its snowy-white plumage make a picture of striking beauty when sharply outlined against a background of dark green foliage or when clearly mirrored on the surface of a quiet pool. Again, as it springs into flight with neck and legs extended, and as it flaps majestically away on its broad white wings, it seems to be the longest, the slenderest, and the most ethereal of the herons.

The beauty of its long, flowing plumes, which adorn its back only during the breeding season, has well-nigh proved its undoing; relentlessly pursued by avaricious plume hunters for many years, it has been driven from many of its former haunts and has been dangerously near extermination. But through adequate protection in certain places and by virtue of its own natural shyness, it has survived and is now increasing in many of its former haunts. It was never as numerous as its smaller relative, the snowy egret, and its numbers were proportionately less reduced. And now there is every reason to believe that it will continue to increase in favorable localities.

Courtship.-Audubon (1840) gives the only account I have seen of this interesting performance as follows:

As early as December I have observed vast numbers congregated, as if for the purpose of making choice of partners, when the addresses of the males were paid in a very curious and to me interesting manner. Near the plantation of John Bulow, Esq., in east Florida, I had the pleasure of witnessing this sort of tournament or dress ball from a place of concealment not more than 100 yards distant. The males, in strutting round the females, swelled their throats, as cormorants do at times, emitted gurgling sounds, raising their long plumes almost erect, paced majestically before the fair ones of their choice. Although these snowy beaux were a good deal irritated by jealousy, and conflicts now and then took place, the whole time I remained much less fighting was exhibited than I had expected from what I had already seen in the case of the great blue heron, Ardea Herodias. These meetings took place about 10 o'clock in the morning, or after they had all enjoyed a good breakfast, and continued until nearly 3 in the after- noon, when, separating-into flocks of 8 or 10 individuals, they flew off to search for food. These maneuvers were continued nearly a week, and I could with ease, from a considerable distance, mark the spot, which was a clear sand bar, by the descent of the separate small flocks previous to their alighting there.

Nesting.-When I first visited Florida, in 1902, the egrets were probably at their lowest ebb, though they were still to be found in small numbers in all the localities we visited. In Brevard County we visited two localities, small cypress swamps, where the year before large breeding rookeries of egrets existed, but not an occupied nest was to be seen. On the upper St. Johns we saw a few egrets, but found no nests. In Monroe County in 1903, among perhaps 4,000 birds in the big Cuthbert rookery, we counted only 18 American egrets and found 7 nests. In the latter locality they increased decidedly during the following five years; when we visited the Cuthbert rookery in 1908, we estimated that it contained between 300 and 400 American egrets. Their nests were scattered all over the rookery and were mostly on the tops of the mangroves, where the birds could obtain a good outlook.

The largest rookery of American egrets that I have ever seen is now safely guarded in a United States bird reservation, locally known as Bird Key, in Boca Ceiga Bay, Pinellas County, Florida. It is well named, for it is a bird paradise, densely populated during the breeding season with many thousands of water birds, Florida cormorants, brown pelicans, white ibises, American and snowy egrets, Ward, Louisiana, and yellow-crowned night herons. I made a number of visits to this most interesting rookery during the spring of 1925, and became quite familiar with its varied bird population. At the time of my first visit, on March 11, the American egrets were already well along with their nesting and apparently all had eggs. They were grouped in a densely populated, but quite extensive area in the most heavily wooded portion of the island, where the trees were tallest and thickest, red and black mangroves, buttonwoods, bays and willows. They were intimately associated with Ward herons and Florida cormorants and apparently on good terms with them. The Ward herons had young in their nests, at that time, in the tops of the tallest trees. But the cormorants, the most numerous species on the island, were then busy with their courtships and were building their nests in the tops of all of the larger trees; these filthy, black creatures seemed out of place among the beautiful white egrets. The egret's nests were placed at various heights in the smaller and medium-sized trees, from 12 to 30 feet up; a few were in the larger trees, but usually not near the tops. The nests were frail and poorly made, as is usually the case with this species. The birds were very tame and it was an easy matter to watch them, even without a blind, at short range; but the foliage was so dense, with practically no open spaces, that it was almost impossible to get clear views for photographs. It was interesting though to watch the home life of these beautiful birds and see them standing or sitting on their nests all around us. Even when not alarmed they seemed none too anxiously to incubate, but spent much time standing on or near their nests in various attitudes of indolence or indifference; eventually they would settle down on their nests. Occasionally we saw the ceremony of nest relief, a spectacular performance; with much loud croaking, to which his mate replies, the male alights in the top of the nest-tree or one near it; with much display of plumage, raised wings and elevated plumes, he walks along or down the branches to the nest, where he greets and caresses his mate; she responds by lifting her head and raising the plumes above her back; in graceful attitudes they admire each others charms, a beautiful picture of conjugal happiness and a great display of purest loveliness; after a few moments she departs and he assumes charge of the nest. Settling down to incubate is a deliberate process; after standing over the eggs for awhile, the bird slowly crouches and finally settles down with the back plumes elevated and spread; gradually these are lowered, the head is drawn down between the shoulders and the long plumes extend beyond the nest like graceful white streamers.

The nests of the American egret are much like those of other herons, but are usually not as well made; they are flat platforms of sticks rather loosely put together and not much larger than the bettor types of night herons' nests. Often there is little or no attempt at nest lining, but sometimes the nests are considerably hollowed and well lined with fine twigs, vines, or weed stems.

American egrets were not common on the coast of Texas in 1923, but we found three small colonies. On one of a chain of islands between Mesquite and San Antonio Bays we found a colony of five or six pairs nesting in a clump of small willows in the midst of a large breeding colony of reddish egrets, Louisiana herons, and snowy egrets; the island was low and rather swampy, overgrown with low bushes and herbage, in which the smaller herons were nesting; in the small clump of willows, the only trees of any size on the island, a few pairs of Ward herons were nesting with the American egrets. The egrets' nests were from 4 to 8 feet up in the small trees and all contained young of various ages on May 16.

In Victoria County, Texas, we found two colonies. One, in a button-willow swamp on Weed Prairie, had once been well populated; the nests were 8 or 10 feet above the water, which was 2 or 3 feet deep, in the willows; most of the nests had been abandoned when we visited it on May 21. The other, a colony of 25 or 30 pairs, was in a clump of willows in an open space among tall timber in a big rookery of white ibises, roseate spoonbills, Ward, and little blue herons. The nests were from 10 to 20 feet up in the willows and contained young of various ages on May 30.

W. J. Erichsen has sent me the following notes on a Georgia colony:

On May 11, 1915, a long-planned visit to the heron rookery on Ossabaw Island, 20 miles southwest of Savannah, became a reality. We began working our way through the rank vegetation toward the little colony of egrets which we deter- mined upon as our first objective. Before we had penetrated the marginal growth many yards, egrets began to vacate their nests, most of the birds withdrawing entirely from the pond, alighting singly or in little groups on the branches of the tall pines at the far end of the pond where they stood out against the dark green foliage in statuesque beauty. As our stay in close proximity to their nests lengthened, some individuals were seen cautiously leaving their outposts and soaring overhead at considerable heights, their anxiety to return to their nests partly overcoming their wary nature. With snakelike necks drawn close in and legs extended straight behind they soared and circled lightly above our heads, mingling with the myriads of Louisiana and little blue herons whose homes were also in the willows here below.

Passing through the rank vegetation growing about the margin we find our- selves in more open water. Little islands of tall green saw-grass and cat-tail flags spring up here and there, between which are open spaces of water of various size. In some of these islands willows have taken root in the soft ooze, sometimes in clusters of two or three but more often singly. In the stoutest of these trees egrets had built their nests usually at a point where several stout limbs con- verged. Two or three pairs generally occupied a tree, but no nests of other species of herons were seen among the little colony, which occupied only a very small area. They seem to prefer living apart, at least they appear not to crave such close association with other herons as do the little blue and Louisiana. Although we made no very careful or accurate count of the number of pairs nesting here we estimated it not to exceed 15.

The nest is a very bulky platform of stout twigs substantially interlaced, nevertheless the structures can be pulled apart with surprisingly little effort. Any limb or crotch capable of supporting a nest was utilized, most of them being 8 or 10 feet above the surface of the water. We examined about 10 nests, all containing three eggs apparently only a few days incubated.

One of the most interesting rookeries of American egrets is still flourishing and probably increasing under the protection of a sports- man's club in South Carolina. This has been. visited and attractively described by Herbert K. Job (1905) and Dr. Frank M. Chapman (1908a). The latter writes:

For 2 miles we paddled thus in a bewildering maze of sunlit, buttressed cypress trunks with shiny, round-headed "knees" protruding from the water, and with every branch heavily moss draped. The dark waters showed no track, the brown trunks no blaze. We seemed to be voyaging into the unknown.

Finally, the environs were passed and we now approached the most densely populated part of the rookery. Thousands of Louisiana and little blue herons left their nests in the lower branches and bushes, their croaking chorus of alarm punctuated by the louder more raucous squawks of hundreds of egrets, as they flew from their nests in the upper branches. It was a confusing and fascinating scene, an admirable climax to the passage through the weird forest. The little blue and Louisiana herons nested at an average height of 6 to 8 feet. One bush held no less than 32 nests, all of which contained eggs, few young of either species having yet been hatched. The egrets nested at an average height of 40 feet. Eggs were in some nests, while in others there were nearly fledged young. While far less shy than I had before found them, the birds were still abundantly wary, and obviously could be observed to advantage only from concealment.

Dr. T. Gilbert Pearson (1919) discovered a colony of "probably 20 pairs" of American egrets in Brunswick County, North Carolina, in 1898. This is probably the only colony in that State and Mr. Pearson says:

We have visited the birds during the nesting period seven different times within the past 12 years, and have found them just about holding their own in numbers.

Their nests were high up in tall cypress trees. The lowest one discovered was at least 40 feet and the others were fully 80 feet above the water.

George Willett (1919) describes an entirely different manner of nesting found in the marshes of Malheur Lake, Oregon. He writes;

On June 28, while rowing along the outer edge of the tules at the southern end of the lake, I finally located the colony in two small tule patches about 3 miles east of the mouth of the Blitzen River. Twenty pairs of the birds were nesting at this date, three nests containing eggs, apparently heavily incubated, and the other nests containing young of various ages, from newly hatched to half grown ones that were able to walk around among the tules. The nests were built on bent-down tule stalks much in the same fashion as nests of the ibis. Some were within 1 foot of the water and others nearly 4 feet up. They were large and rather well made of tule stalks and in two instances contained branches of greasewood that must have been carried at least a mile. The nest complement was from three to five in number, usually four.

A similar method of nesting was noted by George B. Sennett (1878) near Brownsville, Texas. The nests are described as "bulky, composed of the dead and broken down rushes, about 2 feet in diameter, and situated from 1 to 3 feet above the water."

Eggs.-The American egret lays from three to four eggs; I have never seen or heard of any larger sets. In shape they are usually oval with variations to elliptical oval. The shell is smooth with little or no gloss. The color is pale bluish green, varying from "pale Niagara green " to " pale olivine." The measurements of 53 eggs aver- age 56.5 by 40.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 68.5 by 41, 60 by 43, 52.5 by 39.5, and 53.5 by 38 millimeters.

Young.-The period of incubation is probably about 23 or 24 days. In nests that are situated at considerable heights the young are inclined to remain until they can fly, but in the lower nests they are much more precocial and inclined to wander over the immediate surroundings of the nest. I have found them much more timid than other young herons and more inclined to leave the nest, to climb with surprising agility over the surrounding branches. I have experienced considerable difficulty in getting near enough to the half grown young to photograph them; they are lively travelers and generally succeed in keeping out of range.

It is interesting to watch the feeding of the young, as I have seen it from a blind at short range. The young have been crouching quietly in the nest, perhaps asleep or dozing; suddenly their keen eyes, or ears, detect the returning mother bird and they are all alert; excitedly they stretch their long necks and cry for food. At first she stands on or near the nest in a disinterested attitude until she is ready to regurgitate the semi digested food; they become impatient at the delay and peck at her plumage, or rise up and seize her bill shaking it vigorously and worrying her into action; at length she raises her beautiful plumes above her back, a token of her affection, lowers her head and delivers the coveted food. For the younger birds a more or less soup like food, fish chowder, is delivered into the mouth of the young bird; for older birds a fish only partially digested is deposited on the nest, where it is picked up and swallowed. I have seen two or three small young fed at one feeding.

Doctor Chapman (1908a) has described the feeding process very well, as follows:

Doubtless, the young birds were not a little puzzled by the unusual reluctance of their parents to administer to their wants. In vain they uttered their froglike kek-kek-kek, and stretched their necks hopefully. The old birds were not assured. So the young resorted to their customary occupations of leg or wing stretching, or yawning or preening a brother's or sister's feathers, picking at imaginary objects here and there, all good exercises for growing birds. The larger ones made little journeys to the limbs near the nests, the neck taking a different curve with every movement, and expressing every emotion from extreme dejection to alert and eager expectancy. Finally, as the old birds were convinced that the blind was harmless, their reward came. With harsh, rattling notes and raised crest one of the parents alit near the nest. Its superbly threatening attitude was clearly not alarming to the young birds, who welcomed it by voice and upstretched, extended neck. Gravely the parent stood regarding its young, while its crest dropped and its pose relaxed. Then, as it stepped to the edge of the nest, it lowered its head, when its bill was immediately seized by one of the youngsters. The young bird did not thrust its bill down the parental throat, nor was the parent's bill introduced into that of its offspring. The hold of the young bird was such as one would take with a pair of shears, if one were to attempt to cut off the adult's bill at the base. In this manner the old bird's head was drawn down into the nest, where the more or less digested fish was disgorged, and at once devoured by the young.

Plumages.-The downy young egret is partially covered with long, pure white down, through which much light green naked skin shows on the neck and under parts; the bill and feet are light green and yellowish. On the forehead, crown and sides of the head the down is long and hair like, an inch and a quarter long on the top of the head; the entire back is covered with somewhat shorter, softer down; the under parts are more scantily covered with coarser down; and the throat is naked.

By the time that the young bird is half grown it is practically fully fledged; the Juvenal plumage appears first on the back, then on the wings, breast and crown; later the tail appears; and the last of the down is replaced on the neck and belly- This plumage is all pure white, without any trace of plumes. Young birds begin to acquire their first dorsal plumes, aigrettes, during their first prenuptial molt, which begins sometimes early in January, but sometimes not till February or later. The growth of plumes during the first year is always limited and sometimes omitted. At the first postnuptial molt young birds become practically adult.

The European egret is said to have two complete molts each year, but I can not find any trace of molting primaries in American birds during the prenuptial molt. The postnuptial molt is complete, the primaries being molted in August. The long, flowing train of decomposed feathers, known as plumes or aigrettes, is a nuptial adornment of breeding adults; it is acquired at the prenuptial molt in January and February and is shed soon after the breeding season is over, in June and July. I have counted as many as 54 long dorsal plumes in an extra fine specimen, but usually there are much fewer. The adult winter plumage, acquired by a complete postnuptial molt in July and August, is not always wholly devoid of plumes; but the plumes, if present, are fewer in number and much shorter than in spring. The plumage is, of course, all pure white at all ages and seasons.

Food.-Egrets obtain their food in the marshes and rice fields and around the marshy shores of lakes and ponds where their tall, graceful figures tower above the low vegetation or are reflected in the smooth waters as beautiful silhouettes in white. Their movements are stately and the strokes of their rapier like bills are quick and sure. Their food consists only partially of small fishes and it includes frogs, lizards, small snakes, mice, moles, fiddlers, snails, grasshoppers, and other insects, as well as some vegetable matter. Oscar E. Baynard (1912) says:

Food of 50 young egrets that was disgorged by them at the nests immediately after being fed, running over a period of four weeks. The total of the 50 meals follows: 297 small frogs, 49 small snakes, mostly the water moccasin, 61 young fish, suckers, not edible, 176 crayfish.

Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1916) says of a bird taken in Porto Rico:

The single stomach available for examination contained 4 per cent of vegetable rubbish taken as extraneous matter with the animal food. Remains of one mole cricket (Scapteriscus didactylus) and seven entire grasshoppers, with fragments of many more, were found, as well as a moth and three large dragon flies. A small goby and seven entire frogs (Leptodactylus albilabris) with fragments of others, made up 69 per cent of the contents. Orthoptera amounted to 15 per cent, a surprising fact and one that should be given due weight in considering the status of this species.

Behavior.-The pose of the American egret in flight is not unlike that of the other herons; when well under way it carries its neck folded backward, with its head between its shoulders, and its long legs extended behind it as a rudder. But it seems to me that it is easily recognized at even a great distance by its more slender form and by its proportionately longer and broader wings; it is markedly different in these respects from the smaller white herons, and it is a much lighter bird with a more buoyant flight than the heavier great white heron.

It is much at home in the tree tops where it is very light, graceful and agile. A striking instance of its agility is related by C. J. Maynard (1896) who had made a pet of a young egret; he writes:

This bird was accustomed to sit on the prow of a canoe, which was towed astern of the yacht, and when hungry, the heron would walk deliberately along the rope, by which the smaller vessel was fastened to the larger, and which was some 10 feet long, and thus come on board. One day when it was making this trip, a sudden flaw struck the sail, causing the rope to sway, and the bird was thrown into the water. We were moving at the rate of 10 or 12 miles an hour, and the bow of the little boat swept past the heron in an instant, but it appeared to know just what to do, for, without making any useless struggles, it merely reached out and caught the edge of the rapidly passing stern with its bill, gave a flap or two, and in a moment regained its perch on the prow.

The only note I have heard uttered by the American egret is a loud, hoarse croak on a low key. Doctor Chapman (1908a) refers to it as a "rapid cuk, cuk, cuk with the regularity and persistence of a metronome."

Unlike some other herons, the American egrets do not feed at night, but resort regularly to certain favorite roosting places where large numbers often congregate. They gather at the roosting places just before dark, spend the night in the trees, and scatter out over the surrounding country early in the morning. I once saw such a roosting place in Texas. We had been hunting all day for a white ibis rookery and had driven down, just before dark, to look at a button-willow swamp where we thought it might be. We were delighted to see that the trees, which were standing in about 2 feet of water and were surrounded by open water, were covered with birds, American egrets, snowy egrets, and little blue herons. It was a wonderful sight when they all flew up, at our approach. It was too dark to investigate it further that night, but we had visions of some great chances for photo- graphs the next day. We were disappointed, however, on our return the next morning, to find it practically deserted; only a few scattering birds remained, which promptly flew away. It was a night roosting place in an old rookery.

Audubon (1840), Maynard (1896), and Chapman (1892) all refer to this roosting habit. Audubon (1840) writes:

The American egrets are much attached to their roosting places, to which they remove from their feeding grounds regularly about an hour before the last glimpse of day; and I can not help expressing my disbelief in the vulgar notion of birds of this family usually feeding by night, as I have never observed them so doing even in countries where they were most abundant. Before sunset the egrets and other herons (excepting perhaps the bitterns and night herons) leave their feeding grounds in small flocks, often composed of only a single family, and proceed on wing in the most direct course, at a moderate height, to some secure retreat more or less distant, according to the danger they may have to guard against. Flock after flock may be seen repairing from all quarters to these places of repose, which one may readily discover by observing their course. Approach and watch them. Some hundreds have reached the well-known rendezvous. After a few gratulations you see them lower their bodies on the stems of the trees or bushes on which they have alighted, fold their necks, place their heads beneath the scapular feathers, and adjust themselves for repose. Daylight returns and they are all in motion. The arrangement of their attire is not more neglected by them than by the most fashionable fops, but they spend less time at the toilet. Their rough notes are uttered more loudly than in the evening, and after a very short lapse of time they spread their snowy pinions and move, in different directions, to search for fiddlers, fish, insects of all sorts, small quadrupeds or birds, snails, and reptiles, all of which form the food of this species.

Doctor Chapman (1892) refers to a roosting tree in Cuba as follows:

There was a flock of about 20 of these birds at San Pablo which came each night to roost in a tree at the border of the river. They appeared in a body with much regularity just after sunset, and after circling about the tree once or twice alighted on its branches. One now heard a low croaking chorus as the birds selected perches and settled themselves for the night. This rookery was but 200 yards from the houses and mill of the estate, and not more than 60 feet from a well-traveled road. The confidence thus displayed by the birds in their choice of a roost was in striking contrast with the habits of the shy, much-hunted egret of Florida.

Enemies.-Great damage is done in the breeding rookeries of this and all the smaller herons by crows and vultures, which devour all the eggs and young that they can find unguarded. The bird photographer, who drives these shy birds from their nests and keeps them off for some time, is likely to find most of the nests in his vicinity rifled of their contents.

Man has always been the arch enemy of the egrets. The destruction wrought by the plume hunters has been most cruel and wasteful; as the plumes are at the best during the breeding season, the birds were shot in their nesting rookeries, leaving the eggs to rot or the young to starve in the nests. No thought was had for the future and whole rookeries were systematically annihilated.

The slaughter began in Audubon's (1840) time. He speaks of "a person who, on offering a double-barreled gun to a gentleman near Charleston for 100 white herons fresh killed, received that number and more the next day." His friend Bachman brought home 46 from a single day's shooting and said that "many more might have been killed, but we became tired of shooting them." And the slaughter continued with unabated fury in all parts of the world where egrets were to be found. Herbert K. Job (1905), writing at a time when the egrets were at about their lowest ebb, published some interesting figures to account for their disappearance. He writes:

When we know about the millinery plume trade, we understand the reason. In 1903 the price for plumes offered to hunters was $32 per ounce, which makes the plumes worth about twice their weight in gold. There will always be men owho would break any law for such profit. No rookery of these herons can long exist, unless it be guarded by force of arms day and night. Here are some official figures of the trade from one source alone, of auctions at the London Commercial Sales Rooms during 1902. There were sold 1,608 packages of "ospreys," that is, herons' plumes. A package is said to average in weight 30 ounces. This makes a total of 48,240 ounces. As it requires about four birds to make an ounce of plumes, these sales meant 192,960 herons killed at their nests, and from two to three times that number of young or eggs destroyed. Is it, then, any wonder that these species are on the verge of extinction?

The absurd story was circulated by the millinery trade, as an argument in their defense, that the aigrettes were shed by the birds and picked up from the ground under the nests in protected rookeries; and many people believed the story. I have explored many rookeries, looking for shed plumes, but can count on the fingers of one hand all I have ever found; and these were soiled and worn.

A few such plumes are picked up and sold, but they are known as "dead plumes" and bring in the market about one-fifth of the price of "live plumes." T. Gilbert Pearson (1912) published a long list of affidavits emphasizing the falsity of such propaganda, among which the following, from an old plume hunter, is most striking;

My work led me into every part of Venezuela and Colombia where these birds are to be found, and I have never yet found or heard tell of any garceros that were guarded for the purpose of simply gathering the feathers from the ground. No such a condition exists in Venezuela. The story is absolutely without foundation, in my opinion, and has simply been put forward for commercial purposes. The natives of the country, who do virtually all of the hunting for feathers, are not provident in their nature, and their practices are of a most cruel and brutal nature. I have seen them frequently pull the plumes from wounded birds, leaving the crippled birds to die of starvation, unable to respond to the cries of their young in the nests above, which were calling for food. I have known these people to tie and prop up wounded egrets on the marsh where they would attract the attention of other birds flying by. These decoys they keep in this position until they die of their wounds or from the attacks of insects. I have seen the terrible red ants of that country actually eating out the eyes of these wounded, helpless birds that were tied up by the plume hunters. I could write you many pages of the horrors practiced in gathering aigrette feathers in Venezuela by the natives for the millinery trade of Paris and New York.

Fortunately for this and the following species these conditions have now largely changed and plume hunting has become a thing of the past in most of the regions where it was formerly practiced. The vigorous educational and legislative campaign of the National Association of Audubon Societies, and other organizations and individuals interested in bird protection, have created a world-wide sentiment against it and have resulted in adequate laws to prevent it. Many colonies have been successfully protected. Charles J. Pennock wrote me in 1917 that egrets were more numerous in Florida than they had been for many years, since the days of plume hunting. In Texas in 1923 I traveled around with an old plume hunter who told me that no plume hunting had been done in Texas for many years and that the egrets were increasing. Two beautiful species have been saved.

Fall.-This and several other species of herons are much given to northward wanderings in summer and fall; it is usually, if not always, the young birds that indulge in these erratic journeys after the nesting season is over. We do not know where they come from or how far they travel; perhaps systematic banding of young birds may throw some light on the subject. But they appear at frequent intervals, and sometimes in considerable numbers, as far east as New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. I have seen the bird on Cape Cod as early as July 4 and it has been seen as late as September. Throughout the southern portion of its range, from Florida and the Gulf States, it is permanently resident; but it retires in the fall from the more northern portions of its breeding range.

Winter.-Thanks to the protection afforded it by the Audubon Society and by local sentiment, we found this beautiful egret to be I, very common bird in Pinellas County, Florida, particularly in the vicinity of Boca Ceiga Bay, during the winter of 1924 and 1925. One day in November I counted 41 in sight at one time on a mud flat near Pass-a-Grille; they wore in company with three white pelicans, four wood ibises, a number of little blue herons, and a few Louisiana herons. They were seen almost daily on the mud flats in the bay at low tide, and at high tide they resorted to the shallow lagoons or to fresh-water ponds. They could be easily recognized at a great distance by the long neck and slender body and at a considerable distance by the large yellow bill. A favorite resort of theirs was a small pond hole close to a much-traveled road on Long Key, where I lived; they were almost always there at high tide during November and December, sometimes as many as 15 or 20 of them; they paid no attention to passing automobiles, which were constantly buzzing by within a few feet, but, if one stopped for an instant, they were off immediately; any attempt to approach the pond on foot was utterly useless. Their confidence was well placed, for no one ever harmed them; but, they showed wise discrimination in other places, for it was impossible to approach them anywhere else.

Before they began to resort to their breeding grounds on Bird Key, referred to above, they roosted at night on a small mangrove key in a secluded section of the bay, far from any human habitations. The black mangroves in the center were whitewashed with their droppings and the ground under them was littered with white feathers and a few plumes. I never saw any egrets there in the daytime.


Breeding range.-South America, Central America, and southern and western United States. North to Oregon (Silver Lake and Malheur Lake); Nevada (Truckee Valley); Utah (Bear River marshes and Salt Lake Valley); Wisconsin (Two Rivers); northern Indiana (Knouts, Wolf Lake, and Steuben County); Virginia, one record (Arlington); and southern New Jersey (Cape May). East to New Jersey (Cape May); Virginia (Arlington); South Carolina (McClellanville and Mount Pleasant); Georgia (Savannah and Cumberland Island); Florida (Orange Lake, Lake Jesup, Lake Harvey, Alligator Lake, Lake Gentry, Sebastian, Lake Okeechobee, Cuthbert Lake, and Cape Sable); Cuba (Manzanillo); Haiti; Porto Rico (Boqueron, Mameyes, and Pinero Island); Trinidad; Dutch Guiana (Maroni River); Brazil (San Paulo, Iguape, and Taguara); and Argentina (Buenos Aires and Cape San Antonio). South to Argentina (Cape San Antonio, Carhue, and Chubut River); and Chile (Port Otway and Calbuco). West to Chile (Calbuco, Lake Acuico, Santiago, Coquimbo, Tarapaca, and Sacaya); Peru (Lima, Santa Cruz, and Junin); Ecuador (Babahoyo and Manto); Colombia (Meta River and Lake of Paturio); Costa Rica (San Jose, Miravalles, and La Palma); Nicaragua (Escondido River and Lake Nicaragua); Honduras (Tigre Island); Guatemala (Lake of Duenas and Chiapam); Guerrero, Mexico (Acapuico); Sinaloa, Mexico (Mazatlan); Lower California (San Jose del Cabo and Santa Margarita Island); California (Buena Vista Lake, Tulare Lake, Riverdale, formerly Stockton, and Sacra- mento) ; and Oregon (Silver Lake).

The account above given refers to the distribution of the egret before the plume hunters decimated their ranks. At the present time their breeding range in North America is restricted almost entirely to the States of the Gulf coast; Florida (Monroe County, Indian Key Reservation, Myakka River, Orange Lake, and Tallahassee); Louisiana (Delta of the Mississippi River and Cameron Parish); Texas (Karankawa Bay in Calhoun County, Mesquite Bay, Aransas County, and Guadalupe Valley, Victoria County); the States of the South Atlantic coast, Georgia (Okefinokee Swamp and Bird Pond, Chatham county); South Carolina (Mount Pleasant and Washoe Reserve near McClellanville); and North Carolina (Orton Lake, between Wilmington and the mouth of the Cape Fear River). Small colonies are also known in the Mississippi Valley; Arkansas (Walker Lake); and Tennessee (Reelfoot Lake); and also in California (Tulare Lake and Clear Lake); and in Oregon (Silver Lake and Malheur Lake).

Winter range.-South America, Central America, some of the is- lands of the Caribbean Sea and the southern and western United States. In North America the winter range of the egret extends north to California (Santa Cruz, formerly San Francisco, and Stock- ton) ; Oregon (formerly Fort Klamath); Texas (Giddings and Galveston); Louisiana (Marsh Island and Vermillion Bay); Florida (Gainsville); and South Carolina (Frogmore).

Spring migration.-Early dates of arrival are: Oregon, Silver Lake, April 14, 1913, and Malheur Lake, March 12, 1916; Arizona, Phoenix, March 30; Colorado, Denver, April 26, 1907; Louisiana, New Orleans, March 16, 1895; Mississippi, Rodney, March 19; Illinois, Canton, April 11, Peoria, March 20, and Grandridge, April 19; Iowa, Keokuk, April 17, 1894, and Wall Lake, March 22, 1912; Nebraska, Nehawka, May 2, 1905; Indiana, Bicknell, March 11, and Waterloo, April 22; Ohio, Sandusky, April 29; South Carolina, Charleston, February 23, 1913; District of Columbia, Washington, May 30, 2023 (only spring record); and Pennsylvania, Osceola Mills, April 22, 1893.

Fall migration.-Late dates of departure are: Oregon, Klamath Falls, October 31, 1912; California, Clear Lake, September 22, 1911, and Mona Lake, September 21, 1901; Louisiana, New Orleans, December 19, 2022 (possibly wintering); New Jersey, Audubon, September 4, 1912; District of Columbia, Washington, September 22, 1914; Maryland, Ocean City, September 23, 1894; and South Carolina, Charleston, November 6, 1913.

Casual records.-In common with many other species of herons, the egret frequently migrates in summer long distances north of its normal breeding range. Specimens have been collected at this sea- son north to Manitoba (Lake Winnipegosis, summer of 1888); Minnesota (Lanesboro, July 21, 1884, and Wilder, June 16, 2023); Ontario (Rockliffe, spring of 1883, and Dundas County, August 3, 2023); Quebec (Montreal and Godbout); New Brunswick (Grand Manan, August, 1879); and Nova Scotia (Halifax, summer of 1867). In addition to these northernmost records there are numerous occurrences for Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the other New England States, including Maine.

Egg dates.- Flordia: 36 records, December 8 to June 14; 18 records, March 29 to May 1. Texas: 15 records, April 4 to May 20; 8 records, April 14 to May 16. Oregon: 8 records, April 16 to June 28.

Digitized by: Keith F. Saylor
[email protected]

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