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Great Egret
Ballona Creek, CA
November 9, 2010

SPECIES INFO

The Great Egret Ardea alba, also known as the Great White Egret, or Common Egret, is a wading egret, found in most of the tropical and warmer temperate parts of the world, although it is very local in southern Europe and Asia. It is called K?tuku in New Zealand. It is sometimes confused with the Great White Heron in Florida, which is a white morph of the Great Blue Heron.

Description

The Great Egret is a large bird with all white plumage that can reach 101 cm in height and weigh up to 950 g. It is only slightly smaller than the Great Blue or Grey Herons. Apart from size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet. It also has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks.

Behaviour Great egret is landing at the lake in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

The Great Egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, spearing fish, frogs or insects with its long, sharp bill. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim. It is a common species, usually easily seen.

The Great Egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with cold winters. It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest. The call at breeding colonies is a loud croaking "cuk cuk cuk".

Conservation status

Although generally a very successful species with a large and expanding range, the Great Egret is highly endangered in New Zealand, with only one breeding site at Okarito Lagoon. In North America, large numbers of Great Egrets were killed around the end of the 19th century so that their plumes could be used to decorate hats. Numbers have since recovered as a result of conservation measures. Its range has expanded as far north as southern Canada. However, in some parts of the southern United States, its numbers have declined due to habitat loss. Nevertheless, it adapts well to human habitation and can be readily seen near wetlands and bodies of water in urban and suburban areas. In 1953 the Great Egret in flight was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers.

They are Protected in Australia under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974.

The Great Egret is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Great Egret perched nearby an Alligator.

Taxonomy In breeding & non-breeding plumage in congregation in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. New Zealand $2 Coin with the K?tuku minted since 1990

Various authors also identify this species as Egretta alba and Casmerodius albus. However, this species closely resembles the large Ardea herons such as Grey Heron and Great Blue Heron in everything but colour, whereas it shows fewer similarities to the smaller white egrets.

There are four subspecies in various parts of the world, of which the largest is A. a. modesta.

Subspecies
  • A. a. modesta - Asia and Australasia.
  • A. a. alba - Europe
  • A. a. egretta - North America
  • A. a. melanorhynchos - Africa

Cultural References

The Great Egret is depicted on the reverse side of the 5-Brazilian Reais banknote, and on the New Zealand $2 coin.




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