Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reddish Egret

When I was at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge in June, I had the opportunity to photograph a Reddish Egret.  I'd seen them before, but in a white morph.  Reddish egrets hunt differently than all other egrets and herons - instead of quietly waiting for a fish to swim by, they run quickly through the water chasing their prey, often in circles.  It is very distinctive as well as being the best way to identify a white morph reddish egret.  So I was extremely happy to find this egret in his more outstanding plumage close enough to photograph. The white morphs I had seen were always too far away for good photography.

The dark morph reddish egret are a pale gray with reddish neck and head. The bill is pink with a dark tip.  Legs are blue.  The white morph is solid white with bluish legs, a pink bill with a dark tip.  The white morph looks so much like other egrets that I generally identify it by the distinctive hunting behavior before I see the field marks.  White phase are only 10 to 20 percent of the population in Texas.

Diet consists of small fish - minnows, mullet, pinfish and killfish.  In addition to the aggressive running and splashing through the water, they also open their wings to shade the water below luring small fish into the shaded area.  They frequent shallow brackish waters, flats and lagoons for their foraging.

In Texas, reddish egret nests are found on the ground near a bush, or a prickly pear cactus or on an oyster shell beach.  The nest will have three to four blue green eggs.  Genetically two dark phase birds can have white  phase chicks, but two white phase birds can never have dark phase chick.  When a dark phase and white phase bird mate, their chicks are almost always dark phase.  Both parents construct the nest, incubate and feed the chicks.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, reddish egrets are listed as a threatened species in Texas.  It is found year round along the Texas coast.  In 1918, it completely disappeared from Florida. Today in addition to the Texas coast it is found in some parts of Louisiana, Alabama and southern Florida.  While they can be found along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, the West Indies and Baja California, they are rare there.  There are only 1500 to 2000 nesting pairs in the United States and most of these are in Texas.  While no longer hunted for their feathers for women's hats, habitat intrusion by water recreation, pesticides, and land development decrease the available habitat.  Predation by raccoons, coyotes, great-tailed grackles also limits their population growth.


Dick -Photographer said...

They are coming back in Florida as I photographed a dark morph off of Siesta Key in Feb of 2011

David Allen Harvey said...

Love your blog Mary Ann! Keep them photos coming! ~Dave

Mary Ann Melton said...

Thanks for the comments! Glad to know they are returning to Florida!