Living Sanibel: Great egret and great heron
This species, along with the smaller snowy egret, was decimated by the plume hunters in the late 1800s. During breeding season the great egret displays a long, elegant train of lacy plumes (a.k.a. aigrettes) that once made them a constant target of the hat industry. Although it has recovered statewide, the population is still impacted by this slaughter more than 100 years ago.
The great egret flies with a slow, steady beat and with its long neck tucked back. It feeds on fish, snakes, and insects and can often be seen strolling along roads and highways in search of brown anoles. The winter population is greatly increased by migratory birds, which are easily distinguishable from the resident birds by their innate fear of man.
The great egret is monogamous and nests in large colonies with other wading birds. The cover shot of the book, “Living Sanibel,” which was taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm by Sara Lopez, is a great egret with two hungry chicks. Predominant threats include water quality and habitat loss. Alligators, owls, and bobcats prey on the great egret, and various tree-climbing predators sometimes attack its rookeries.
Fond of dense mangrove roosts and reclusive in nature, this small, solitary heron may be difficult to spot on Sanibel and Captiva. One amazing characteristic of this bird is its ability to use tools. It commonly uses crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, and even feathers (think artificial flies) as bait to lure small fish to within reach.
The green heron is actually not very green; only a hint of that color can be seen on the crown and back under good lighting conditions. It has yellow legs and a chestnut neck with patches of white. It tends to remain in a crouched position when feeding. It resembles the crow when flying and lets go with a loud skeow when disturbed. It is monogamous, but unlike most other herons and egrets, the green heron tends to make solitary nests and does not roost in colonies.
This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.