Egrets, Egrets

The blog title might suggest I’m blogging about how to respond to an e-invite or invitation. I’m not.

I’m talking about are the small white herons that are seen in fields with cows. They’re about 20 inches long with a 36-inch wingspan when they fly and stand in a hunched position.

Recently, I spotted the white birds wandering in and out of cattle  at the edge of a friend and fellow writer’s pasture pond.

“Oh, those are cowbirds,” she said.

We begin to discuss how we always see cowbirds but had no idea why the name. or anything about the bird. That led to some research. Writers do love their research.

Cattle Egrets are native to Africa but somehow reached South American in the 1870s and migrated up. By the 1960s the white birds were documented as far north as Canada, west as far as California and east as far as Florida. Since Texas is about in the middle of those three, that would explain why we see so many of the birds in our cow pastures.

Sometimes the birds can be confused with Snowy Egrets. If you look closely, you’ll see a thicker neck, an orange or yellow bill, and dirty yellow legs and feet. Snowy Egrets like wet, water feeding.

Cowbird egrets prefer foraging field grass and pastures for the crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects the cattle hoofs stir up. They also clean the cows’ hide of ticks and fleas. That’s why you’ll see them on the cows’ backs and pecking the legs.

Their name comes from the grazing animals they team up with to forage. In other places, they are known as cow cranes, cow herons, cow birds, elephant birds, rhinoceros egrets, and hippopotamus egrets.

Breeding season runs April through September and depending on the arrival of fall even into October. Fall is running late here in southeast Texas and that’s why there are still so many cattle egrets this year.

My romance writer heart fluttered to learn they pair up and nest in established heronries year after year.

Now the next time you’re driving and spot a long-legged white bird on a cow’s back, you can wow your audience with tidbits of trivia.

If you really want to impress, throw in this little fact.

The oldest Cattle Egret on record was at least 17 years old when it was captured and released in Pennsylvania in 1979. It had been banded in Maryland in 1962.

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2 Comments on “Egrets, Egrets

  1. Sometimes, they take on a pinkish cast. I’m told it’s because of what they’ve been eating. I have no idea if this is true. I doubt it. They’ve probably been playing in their mother’s rouge pot.

    • From what I read, the coloring change occurs during mating season. Something about attracting their soul mate. I think we humans call it blushing.

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