Cattle Egrets – Herdsman of the Rhinoceros and Other Beasts

Thank you Laura Macky, for reminding me of a post I have intended to write for a while.

Some years ago, in the age of film (before digital), I took a number of cattle egret photos in Florida. I actually saw several playing in the surf at the beach. I sent photos and a story to the local Audubon Society and they printed the story in their chapter magazine.

Cattle Egret in Florida, C. 1982

Cattle Egret in Florida, C. 1982

Looking at the photo, I was convinced that I should concentrate on writing, and try to let photography support my articles. None of my photos here are as striking as Laura’s, but I hope they tell a short story.

The cattle egret was originally an African and Asian bird. On a trip to Africa in 1977, I recall seeing one prancing wildly around a rhinoceros.

A Cattle Egret accompanies a Rhino as it browses on African grasses.

A Cattle Egret accompanies a Rhino as it browses on African grasses.

Okay, I have to explain:
This is a really poor quality photo. Here is my excuse. My mother, at the time in the Peace Corps, and I were driving through the Willem Pretorius Nature Preserve in South Africa — in her bright yellow Volkswagen “Beatle” – when we encountered this rhino. She was concerned that although notoriously poor of eyesight, the rhino might easily see and be attracted to, perhaps alarmed, by the bright yellow car, and she was not going to get close and barely slowed down enough for me to get this shot. The photo was taken on Ektachrome transparency film and scanned to make the print. Though not sharp, it brings back some fond memories.

To Continue:

Cattle Egrets arrived in South America about 1877 and gradually moved north. It was unknown in North America until after 1952, but has since spread rapidly.

In Tennessee, Cattle Egrets are migrants, arriving in mid spring and leaving in the fall for feeding and breeding grounds in coastal wetlands.

Cattle Egrets arrive in Tennessee from late spring until late fall.

Cattle Egrets arrive in Tennessee from late spring until late fall.

“Cattle Egret” is an appropriate name. They hang around cattle and other grazing animals, looking for insects, such as grasshoppers, that are stirred by the grazers. When they need to rest, they will fly up on the backs grazing animals for a free ride.

I watched a flock of several egrets accompanying a small herd of wild horses on Assateague Island off the coast of Maryland. The tall grass made it difficult for the bird to hunt, so it hopped on the horse for a better view. They have also been seen following a working tractor mowing a field.

A wild horse on Assateague Island, Maryland, accompanied by a Cattle Egret

A wild horse on Assateague Island, Maryland, accompanied by a Cattle Egret

Here in Tennessee, there was, until last year, a tree standing in the middle of a local pasture by a shallow pond. The Cattle Egrets used this tree as a roost.

The

The “Egret Tree”

With the tree gone, they now flock to other trees, and in the evenings we see flocks of them flying off to some preferred roost.

These egrets stand about 14 inches high, and may have a buff or golden colored patch on the tops of their heads and or on their chests. This is breeding plumage.

For those that need to know, the scientific name is: Bubulcus ibis. Bubulcus is Latin for “herdsman” because of its association with cattle. “Ibis” stems from Latin and Greek words for what was originally the white sacred ibis of Egypt (to which it is NOT related).

About
Laura Macky’s photo reminded me of a post about Cattle Egrets I had been planning.

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4 Responses to Cattle Egrets – Herdsman of the Rhinoceros and Other Beasts

  1. We get them here at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve all the time, and they are common here in the Las Vegas Valley because of all the horse ranches in the suburbs and cattle ranches in the rest of the county. i remember them in great numbers in Florida and really loved all these pictures,but the rhino shot is a classic!

  2. lauramacky says:

    That was really interesting and you had some really great shots there. I loved that rhino..wow that must’ve been amazing to see in person! The egrets in the tree were hilarious. I’ve never seen so many in one spot. i was also interested to know they didn’t migrate here until 1952. Thanks for pinging me back and such a great post!

  3. merlinjr01 says:

    Laura, Thank you for the comments. Not my best photos, but with the story….

  4. Pingback: The Great Egret – A “Founder” of the National Audubon Society | Renaissance Musings

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