Saturday 5 November 2022

Troublesome Egrets

Early in the summer we became aware of a new colony of Little Egrets on patch, quite a distance from the Estuary but a sizeable colony - our biggest in fact!  The colony however was really hard to see, high up in a thick conifer plantation. 

It wasn't long after the discovery of this colony that on two afternoons I saw a single adult Cattle Egret flying towards it, amongst the almost constant toing and froing of adult Little Egrets...

Kev kept checking the colony as best he could, and on 13th June found a new viewpoint and was greeted by some yellow-billed egrets!  But what were they?

The first thing I will say is that despite some long vigils once Kevin had found these interesting looking young egrets, we didn't see a single adult egret visit the nest!  It is wonder how they didn't all starve to be honest, absolutely hopeless parents.  There were sporadic Cattle Egret sightings in the valley during June/July but this maybe a moot point.

This is the egret nest in question, which in this photo shows all three of the youngsters huddled up...

What is really odd is how the three young egrets in this one nest looked so different!  And here they all are... (for the purpose of this post I will label the birds 1, 2, 3 left to right).

Bird 1

The darkest billed, and probably the youngest of the three as it seemed far less adventurous...

Bird 2

This bird showed a pale straw-coloured bill...

Bird 3

What the heck is this!?  I will let the pictures do the talking but basically it just looks like a Cattle Egret...

And to compare, here's a photo of a juvenile Little Egret from another nest, and then a photo showing a young Little Egret alongside the mystery nest...

So, some thoughts from me...

  • Despite the dazzling orange bill, look at the bill size in the lower photo compared with that young Little Egret.  Same size and shape, a bit longer if anything.  Cattle Egret whatever the age should show a short and stubbier bill.
  • Young Cattle Egrets usually fledge with dark bills, which then rapidly become pale/orange. So orange bills on birds of this age isn't even right for Cattle Egret.
  • All the other juvnile egrets in the colony (c20 birds) had dark bills.
  • Does the difference between the three fledglings indicate two different species as parents? 
  • Why were their parents so hopeless? It would have saved a lot of confusion on our side if they actually visited the nest whilst we were looking!

On one evening when Kev and I were looking at these puzzling birds, we joked that our hopeless juvenile egret knowledge probably meant a pair of adult Great White Egrets would soon fly in and feed these chicks!

What I am struggling with is that even though I am firmly in the 'these are not Cattle Egrets' camp, and actually think they are just odd Little Egrets - I then see the photo below and think how are these not Cattle Egrets!?

So in summary.... can anyone help? What is going on here?