Saturday, February 25, 2012

McEgret's - The Cattle Egret

There are certain birds that you can say with certainty exactly where you will find them. As their name suggests, where there are cattle there are Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). Spot a roadside mower or a tractor in a field and there will be Cattle Egret and where there is smoke in the grasslands, there will be Cattle Egret. Much to my surprise, after departing a well-known fast food chain drive-thru, I discovered that the habitat of this bird can be extended to here as well.

Cattle Egret found their way to the New World from Africa sometime in the late 19th century and flapped and grazed their way north into the US by the mid 20th century. They have a distinctive head bob that makes them appear to strut like a chicken. In addition to the bovine company they keep and their amusing gait, adult Cattle Egret are easily identified by the colorful plumage on their chest and cap that has the appearance of lightly toasted marshmallow.

The habit of following in the wake of cattle, mowers, tractors or wildfires tremendously assists the birds as they forage for insects. As they are stirred up by each, the egrets take advantage of the chaos in the insect world. While most birds are escaping a wildfire, the Cattle Egret will swoop in soon after and enjoy the BBQ.

When the egrets are full or have tired of walking the tall grass prairies, they hitch a ride and go cattle surfing. The grazing goliaths seemingly ignore one bird on their back but a second bird is the start of a party and a tail slap rectifies the situation.

I don’t make a habit of eating anything that comes from a drive-thru nor do I use Photoshop for any of my Audubon Guides photos, but in this instance, for my amusement and to avoid commercial endorsement I have touched it up a bit.  

Why was the Egret in the drive-thru? I hope it wasn’t looking for its surfing partner. 

1 comment:

  1. Once, when I was at PV, we took northern relatives out to Myaka to be tourists. A guy walking past us spotted an egret and said to his wife, "Look Marge! It's an egress."

    It's been a family joke ever since.