by Kyle Sweet, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist
Medium to Large Heron
Bill pink at base, black at tip
Dark phase, which is far more common, is all gray with reddish neck
White phase, much less common, is all white with two toned bill and dark gray legs
Reddish Egret, Egretta rufescens
One of the less seldom seen of our local shorebirds is the Reddish Egret. Nearly decimated by plume hunters in the late 1800’s and reportedly not seen in Florida for a period in the early 20th century, Reddish Egret populations have gradually increased under complete protection. There are roughly 2000 pairs of this long – legged wader currently in the United States.
Of all of the resident herons or egrets in Southwest Florida, the Reddish Egret is the one most tied to salt water, thus making it the one least seen inland as well. The range of the Reddish Egret extends along both coasts of Florida from central Florida south, the southeastern Texas coastline and all along the shores of Mexico, including the Baja peninsula.
The feeding behavior of the Reddish Egret varies greatly and is most dramatic as compared to other waders. Often, they feed by actively running through the shallows chasing their prey with a close eye and catching that prey by rapidly changing directions and plunging their bill into the water. The other commonly seen and well photographed behavior is one which the egret stands still, partially spreads its wings while bent over creating an umbrella effect on the surface of the water. Small fish are instinctively drawn to the shade, where the egret can easily catch them.
The diet of the Reddish Egret consists primarily of fish, with minnows, mullet and killifish being reported as the major varieties. In addition, they will also feed on frogs, tadpoles and crustaceans to round out their diet.
Nesting takes place in both Texas and Florida primarily in the spring. Nest locations vary between the two locations with nesting often occurring on the ground in Texas and in mangrove trees in Florida. The male puts on a display with his shaggy neck feathers fully raised, tossing his head forward and circling around a female in the shallows. If she approves and they nest and mate, 2-7 pale blue green eggs typically result. The mating pair share in the feeding of the young, which often walk from the nest in only about four weeks, capable of flight in six to seven weeks.
The Reddish Egret was listed in the 2014 State of the Birds Report. Conservation efforts are in place and must continue to protect this bird. The State of the Birds Report uses birds as indicators of ecosystem health by examining population trends of species and was begun in the early 2000’s. To see the newest State of the Birds Report by the North American Bird Conservation Institute, go to www.stateofthebirds.org/2019/.
The Reddish Egret is unique and very active and a must see. Look along the edges of our bays in quiet, shallow waters for this prancing dark shore bird.