This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the cattle egret.
This is a bird native to Africa which only arrived in North America in the 1940s. Its range has been expanding since and it is now one of the most abundant herons on our continent. After fledging, young birds wander long distances in random directions, contributing to the widespread dispersal of the population.
Across their range, these egrets are named for the large, grazing animals they associate with and in other parts of the world are known as elephant birds and rhinoceros or hippopotamus egrets. Here, they are often found at the feet of cattle or riding on their backs, feeding on the insects attracted to and stirred up by cows as they graze. They will also follow tractors and fly toward smoke to capture the insects fleeing fire.
These egrets often live in drier habitats than other herons. Feeding alone or in large, loose flocks, they eat a wide range of prey including insects, mice, songbirds and their eggs, fish and frogs.
In breeding plumage, this small white heron has golden feathers on its head, back and breast, a short yellow bill and yellow legs. Nonbreeding birds are all white with black legs. Compared to other egrets, it has a relatively short, thick neck and short legs.
Recently, snowy egrets have been seen on the edges of Lake Forest. Elegant egrets are always a treat to see here.
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