Cattle Egret

  Cattle Egret

© Darlene B. Durham 2014

 

TGO Nature Center, nature, education, bird, birds, cattle, egret

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Durham

 

We have several species of egrets here at TGO.  Many will be found around the lakes and Addison Canal fishing for a meal.  However, one species, the Cattle Egret, you are more likely to find on land as they are a terrestrial bird.

The Cattle Egret is related to the heron family but is not native to Florida.  This bird is thought to have originally come from Europe and Africa or Asia in the 1940’s or 1950’s as a result of natural range expansion.  Because the Cattle Egret came here from range expansion and not human intervention, some scientists now call the Cattle Egret a native species.

The Cattle Egret, especially in non-breeding coloration, is often confused with the Snowy Egret as its plumage is white.  During the breeding season, which in Central Florida occurs from mid-April through July, the cattle egret’s plumage on its crown, back and chest turn an orange color.  Its bill turns from yellow in non-breeding season to orange-red in breeding season.  The cattle egret’s legs also turn orange-red in breeding season from its non-breeding season color of yellow to gray-green.

The cattle egret is often found around livestock and farm machinery where it eats the insects and small prey which is stirred up from the ground by livestock and farm machinery.  They will also eat parasites from the bodies of livestock.  Have you ever seen an egret perched on the back of a cow?  During our afternoon golf cart ride, we encounter Cattle Egrets throughout TGO, usually in open areas, and around the cattle in the fenced area close to Buck and Doe Lakes.  Taylor took the Cattle Egret photos in this article in one of the empty lots in Hidden Lakes in May 2014.

As mentioned earlier, the Cattle Egret’s breeding season in Central Florida extends from mid-April through July.  They will be two to three years old before they enter the breeding population.  Cattle Egrets are colonial breeders and can be found in mixed colonies alongside other species of egrets and herons.  As with many bird species, the male will establish its own breeding territory and he will engage in elaborate displays during courtship to woo a female.  The males will frequently mate with more than one female.

When pairs have established, the male will be the primary provided of the nesting material and the female will construct a nest from what the male provides.  The nest building and breeding process only lasts approximately three days at which time the birds will begin to lose their breeding colors.

The female Cattle Egret in Florida will have approximately 3 to 4 eggs per nest.  One egg will be laid every other day during nesting with the eggs hatching in the order they were laid.  Incubation of the eggs is approximately 24 days.  The birds hatched first will have a better survival rate than their siblings hatched later.  This is mainly due to the availability of food.  The young birds, called fledglings, will begin to fly 25-30 days after hatching.  However, they will still depend on their parents until they become independent which occurs approximately when they are 45 days old.

The Cattle Egret’s diet includes more than just livestock parasites.  The primary diet of the Cattle Egret consists of crickets, moths, grasshoppers, beetles, flies and other small invertebrates and vertebrates.  However, they can also consume relatively large prey such as crayfish, frogs, fish, small snakes, bird eggs and nestling birds.

As you travel throughout TGO, watch for these beautiful birds.  When the Cattle Egrets are not in their breeding season colors, see if you can tell the difference between the Snowy Egret and the Cattle Egret.  Most importantly though is to enjoy our wonderful birds!

 

TGO Nature Center, birds, education, cattle, egret, nature, bird, birds

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Durham

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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