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Pagosa Springs
Monday, October 2, 2023

Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the great egret.

This is one of the more elegant birds that stops in our area during spring and fall migrations. They are most common in the southeastern parts of the United States, but after breeding season, they range widely before heading south for the winter.

Standing over 3 feet tall on long, black legs, this white bird grows long plumes on its back during breeding season which are raised in courtship displays, primarily by the male. In flight, it is graceful, tucking its long S-curved neck back and trailing its legs behind.

Great egrets are tied to wetlands, either freshwater, brackish or saltwater, where they forage in shallow water while wading or standing still and jab at prey with a long, orange, dagger-like bill. They feed primarily on fish, but will also take amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, birds and invertebrates. The anatomy of the digestive tract limits it to small prey.

During much of the year, they are solitary birds, but they breed in large, noisy colonies, often with other wading birds. Like other herons, they build nests of sticks high in trees or shrubs and often over water. When food is scarce, nestlings compete fiercely to be fed and dominant chicks may kill weaker, smaller siblings.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, great egrets were slaughtered in huge numbers since their plumes were prized to decorate hats. More than 95 percent of the population in North America were killed for this trade. Concerned citizens banded together and formed local Audubon societies working to promote legislative banning of the trade in wild bird feathers. The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

For information on activities, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

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