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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cattle Egret, Florida


The Cattle Egret is native to Africa and Asia, and only reached the Americas in the late 19th century. It was first found in northeastern South America in 1877, having probably arrived there from Africa. It reached the United States in 1941, and started nesting by 1953. In the next 50 years it became one of the most abundant of the North American herons. It has occurred all the way to Alaska and Newfoundland, and has bred in nearly all states.

The Cattle Egret is an opportunistic feeder, and will follow large animals or machines to catch insects they stir up. It also is attracted by smoke from a large fire. Egrets come from long distances to catch insects trying to escape the fire.

The Cattle Egret occasionally adds birds to its diet. At Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida, migrating Cattle Egrets land on the large green lawn inside the fort, probably hoping for some nice grasshoppers. Because no insects are there to be had, the egrets try to catch the migrating warblers that also have stopped on the tiny island.

* Size: 46-56 cm (18-22 in)
* Wingspan: 88-96 cm (35-38 in)
* Weight: 270-512 g (9.53-18.07 ounces)

* Medium-sized all-white heron.
* Sturdy yellow bill.
* Dark legs and feet.
* Swollen throat.
* Rather short, thick neck for a heron.

* Sits in hunched posture.
* Breeding (Alternate) Plumage: White overall, with long, buffy reddish feathers on crown, chest, and back. Legs yellow-green, eyes dark yellow. In brief high breeding condition, bill, legs, and eyes bright red; lores purple-pink.
* Nonbreeding (Definitive) Plumage: Feathers all white; shorter orangish plumes on head, chest, and back. Legs dark green, appearing black. Bill, lores, and eyes yellow.

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