Back on May 8, 2021, Robert was driving the tractor past our pond and he saw a couple of large white birds. Unfortunately, he only had a cell phone camera with him. But, he shot these two photos, then came to ask me what species I thought it might be.
Oh, my – I thought. That’s an egret or a heron but, who knows if we’ll be able to decipher it based on such minimal information. I went to the guides. Fortunately, there actually were not that many options from which to choose. The Cattle Egret is white, but it is short with a thick neck. This bird seemed taller with a slender, longer neck.
There is a white morph of the Great Blue Heron. Hmm. In years past (including last year) a Great Blue Heron has been a very frequent visitor to our pond. I’ve seen it a couple times this year. Just the other day, from my office I watched two of them (one a bit smaller) fly north from the pond. They were nearly side-by-side in flight and looked like they were probably a pair. They were both that steely gray-blue color I am familiar with.
The Great Egret is a white bird of more elegant proportions than the Great Blue Heron. It’s also smaller than the GB Heron, which is why we decided that what Robert saw was a Great Egret. Robert was certain that the body shape was quite slender.
The Snowy Egret, another white bird, has a black bill. The bird Robert filmed has an orange beak. The juvenile stage of the Little Blue Heron is white, but its bill isn’t yellow.
So, we find ourselves back to confirming the bird as a Great Egret – with a bit of a hold-out for a white morph Great Blue Heron. What I’ve read as distinctions between the two is the color of the legs. Great Egrets (even the white morph) have black legs. The herons have lighter colored legs. And, here’s a quote from AllAboutBirds: “The white form of the Great Blue Heron, known as the “great white heron,” is found nearly exclusively in shallow marine waters along the coast of very southern Florida, the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the Caribbean.” I figured that sealed the deal. We were probably accurate going with identification of Great Egret, even with the challenge of the blurry images.
On May 17, 2021, I scared up a large, white bird from the pond as I was driving my gas powered (sort of noisy) golf cart into the area. I stopped, hoping it would make a circle and drop back to the water’s edge. Instead, it appeared to be flying off into the sunset (which on that day was obscured with thick cloud cover.) Fortunately for me, it eventually turned back. The bird landed at the very top of a mature tree (I am guessing it was 40 foot tall.) I was able to take the following photos.
The first photo is a wider angle. Look for the bird towards the right of the frame, at the top of the trees. Truly, the experience made me realize that I must look to the tops of tree far more often. I would have completely missed seeing this bird, regardless of its size, if I hadn’t seen it land in the treetops.
While the color of the legs were obscured by the tree, the lack of chest feathers, and the more slender build of this bird makes me feel confident that it is, in fact, a Great Egret! AllAboutBirds adds this info about birds during the breeding season, “During the breeding season, large feathery plumes grow from its back…which they hold up during courtship displays.” I think the above photo may provide some evidence of those unique back feathers.
The Great Egret (which is most probably migrating through) becomes the 96th species I have observed on our property since I began counting, last year in June.