This tall, white, wading bird, called the Great Egret, is found in quiet waters in all seasons throughout Florida. In the past, this beautiful bird was slaughtered for its white plumes that were used to decorate women’s hats. Fortunately, the Great Egret is now a protected species and its population has increased, thanks largely to preserved nesting areas such as the Venice Area Audubon Rookery. The most obvious identifying mark is its size. The Great Egret is the largest white egret—37-41 inches in height, with a 55-inch wingspan. It has a slender white neck with long dark legs, and a bright yellow bill.
From January to early summer, both sexes have splendid white breeding plumes growing from their backs. Another sign of a breeding bird is the bright green patch located between the base of the bill and the eye. The egret first breeds at the age of 1-2 years. The male selects the nest area, where he displays his breeding plumage. Initially he drives other birds away, and later courts the females. Courtship displays include calling, circular display flight, and stretching the neck up with the bill pointed toward the sky.
Great Egret nesting occurs from December through June. The nest is constructed by both sexes, using sticks arranged on a platform of shrub or tree branches. During incubation the birds perform a ritual nest-relief. The male lands on a nearby branch, with wings raised, then walks toward the nest, his plumes extended. The female responds by lifting her head and spreading her plumes. She departs and the male crouches and slowly settles on the nest. The average 3-4 pale blue-green eggs hatch in 23-26 days. The young usually take their first flight 42 days after hatching.
The Great Egret’s diet consists of fish, insects, frogs, snakes, grasshoppers, mice, rats, ducklings, and crayfish.