Peering Thru Feathers
Photograph - Digital
From Florida Birds Collection by artist Dawn Currie
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The elegant Great Egret (Ardea alba) is a dazzling sigh. They are a large elegant white bird with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.
The male builds a nest platform from long sticks and twigs before pairing up with a female, and then both members of the pair may collaborate to complete the nest, though the male sometimes finishes it himself. The nest is up to 3 feet across and 1 foot deep. It is lined with pliable plant material that dries to form a cup structure. They don't typically reuse nests from year to year. The nest itself is up to 100 feet off the ground, often over water, usually in or near the top of a shrub or tree.
Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls, and herons, and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.
I love shooting these beautiful birds in a variety of popular birding locations in central Florida, but the best place to photograph nesting Egrets is Gatorland Orlando. The biggest challenge is capturing the detail in their dazzling white feathers under the Florida sun and avoiding the invasive Brazilian Pepper plants.
January 20th, 2014
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