Fighting back

I have spent the last three weeks on an island in South Carolina called Wadmalaw, a very soothing place in the Low Country delta landscape (where Carolina Gold rice was once the principal crop). At low tide the mudflats are the hunting ground of the majestic Great White Egret:

These highly successful three-foot-tall birds are widely distributed, but they mainly breed in warmer climes. This one non-breeding one is in the Cotswolds, by a fresh water stream:

Back in Wadmalaw, they stride along the water’s edge:

pouncing on small fish and crustaceans:

But even shellfish can fight back. This next egret was roosting on the edge of a former rice impoundment ( a small pond dug to serve as a fresh-water reservoir for the rice fields). Look at the raised foot: its toe has been trapped by a mussel:

The poor bird seemed unable to dislodge it:

The ornamental toe-ring did not seem to seriously impede the bird. It did some stretches and downward dogs (downward egrets?):

This is actually a part of its courtship display, called “crouching” and indeed it is in breeding plumage. You can see the long scapular aigrettes (extending beyond the tail):

Also signifying breeding readiness is the greenish skin around the eye, and between the eye and the beak (the lores), and the orange bill.

Eventually this male flew off, mussel dangling below, and joined a second egret deep in the trees on the opposite side of the pond, perhaps its mate. Let’s hope she likes mussels.

PS This bird is probably a male, although females also assume breeding plumage, and do a little displaying once the pair bond is formed. A beautifully detailed description of Great White Egret courtship displays can be found here:

Mock, D. W. (1978b). Pair-formation displays of the Great Egret. Condor 80:159-172.

PPS Here is a short video of a slightly different portion of its mating dance,

4 thoughts on “Fighting back”

  1. So glad to have your nature self back! I too had never thought of the fighting power of the mussel. I’m sure Molly will go crazy for this post because of all the egrets near her. Getting into the high 50’s here, quite exciting. >

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  2. Yes Anne you are right, these are such exquisite photos! Thank you so much for this beauty! I live next to the Napa River delta and see egrets often. They are such elegant birds. I noticed green around the beak in one of your photos and did not know they had this coloration, or perhaps 2 different kinds of egrets on the East and West coasts?

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      1. Hopefully the Mussel realized that the Egret’s toe is not so delicious & let go of it’s hold. Awesome photos, as usual, Moira. Wadmalaw seems like an awesome area.

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