The Great White Egret - Interesting Facts and Information
The Great White Egret
Range Map of Great White Egret
Habit and Range
The great white egret is a fishing bird that inhabits many wetlands of North America. They can be found in and around ponds, marshes, lakes, rivers, swamps and almost anywhere there is low water accumulations. They range from southern Canada and scattered states around the US, migrating to South America in the winter. In May of 2012, a pair of great egrets were seen nesting in the UK and at least one chick was later seen. It is hoped that the Great Egret will continue to find nesting ground in the UK.
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Great White Egret During Breeding Season
The Great White Egret is solid white with a yellowish-orange dagger like bill and long black legs. It measures approximately 37 to 41 inches in length with a wing span of about 51 to 57 inches across. The may weigh about 35 pounds and are somewhat smaller than the Great Blue Heron, but larger than the Snowy Egret.
During their breeding season, the patch of skin on the egrets face will turn a neon green in color and long plumes of feathers called “aigrettes”, will grow and cascade down its back. They were hunted almost to extinction in the late nineteenth century for these beautiful plumes. The plumes were prized for adorning ladies hats. The Great White Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.
Great White Egrets in Flight
The Great White Egrets fly rather slowly at only 2 wing-beats per second and their cruising speed is only about 25 miles an hour. You can tell an egret from other wading birds in flight, as the egret will always have its S-shaped neck tucked in in flight and their long black legs will be trailing behind them.
They are long legged wading birds who hunt in both fresh and saltwater habitats. Their diet consists of small fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates such as crayfish and shrimp. They will also eat insects such as dragonflies, damselflies, water bugs and grasshoppers.
They typically wade into the shallow waters and stand perfectly still, watching for their prey to approach. When their prey comes close enough, the use their long neck and sharp bill to strike and stab the prey which they then swallow whole.
Great White Egret with Chicks
They nest in colonies, usually high in the trees or in the top of shrubs where they can avoid predators such as raccoons. Their nests are typically “platform nests” made of long sticks. The male usually builds the next before finding his mate. The nest may be up to 3 feet across and 1 foot deep. It is lines with plant material that dries to form a cup shape.
The female egret may lay anywhere from 1 to 6 eggs during 1 or 2 broods per year. Their nesting period is approximately 21 to 25 days with an incubation period of 23 to 27 days. Both the male and the female will look after the eggs. The eggs are smooth and a pale greenish-blue in color. Not all the chicks will usually survive, due to what is called siblicide. This is a common behavior where the larger chicks will kill the smaller ones. This behavior is common in birds such as herons, hawks and owls and happens more often as a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.
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The numbers of the Great White Egret have grown considerable since the outlawing of killing these birds for the beautiful feathers and their range is increasing as well.
The oldest known Great Egret lived to be almost 23 years old. This is known as the egret was banded in Ohio.
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