Welcome to the roost! It’s always a pleasure to report success stories and it is certain that most folks enjoy reading about them –– almost as much as this writer enjoys reporting the facts. Our subject today is the success story: the Cattle Egret (Bulbulcus ibis). Other names given to this egret include Buff-backed Heron and Cowbird.
The “Cowbird” name is quite appropriate because this egret is seen many times following closely along with cattle, as the larger animals stirs up insects as it walks. The egret can also be seen around farm equipment that is turning over soil, cutting grasses or other farming chores. Seeing the egret sitting on the backs of cattle, horses and even deer is no surprise.
It is easy for the novice birder to mistake the Cattle Egret for the Snowy Egret, however the Snowy Egret has black legs, yellow feet and a black bill; whereas the Cattle Egret has yellow or orange colored legs with a yellow or orange bill (depending on breeding season). Buff feathers on the back, head and chest complete the courtship color changes.
Have you seen these birds in your own yard? It is no surprise to see one or two –– or a dozen –– meandering about the flower beds and bushes looking for lizards and insects. We have watched a few going about their business in the WalMat parking lot, inspecting some of the green areas scattered about in that sea of concrete.
Only occasionally do Cattle Egrets feed in or near water, although they prefer to nest in shrubs or trees over water or on tree-covered islands surrounded by water. There is a large roosting area on a small island in Lake Grassy. Hundreds of Cattle Egrets use it every evening.
Usually, four light blue eggs are laid in a stick nest and most likely in a colony of Egrets. Incubation takes 21-25 days and is performed by both sexes. Flight occurs in about 40 days and independence takes about 40 days.
Now to follow up on the “success” part of this story. Quoting from the Time Magazine of Aug. 15, 1960: “The Cattle Egret is a native of southern Europe, Africa and southern Asia. It was first discovered in the New World on May 27, 1937, in British Guinea. The second South American record was in Venezuela on Jan. 27, 1943. The first reported appearance in North America was at Wayland, Mass. on April 23, 1952, but it developed later that some were included in a movie of herons among cattle near Lake Okeechobee on March 12, 1952.”
The details reported by Time Magazine are most interesting as it gives a timeline that can be followed. At present, the Cattle Egret has extended its range all the way up to southern Canada. One would have to agree that this is a remarkable success story. As a matter of interest, the most recent Archbold-Audubon Lake Placid Christmas Bird Count reported 1,275 Cattle Egrets in the study area.
It really makes one happy to find readers calling and sending emails with questions and unusual bird and wildlife sightings. Knowing that folks are appreciative of the effort and research and “putting it all down” in an easy to read manner makes it all worthwhile. So keep those emails and calls coming at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-465-6618.
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Hank Kowalksi lives in Lake Placid and is a graduate of the Dr. Reed Bowman Bird Study Course at South Florida State College. He is a past commissioner of the Natural Resources Advisory Commission. He is also past president of the Highlands County Audubon Society and a part president of the Heartland Environmental Council.