Boat­ing and Bird­ing

Cat­tle Egrets are of­ten over­looked as there are so many and they are seen so of­ten; but what do we know about them?

SA Bass - - Lifestyle -

T he ex­ten­sive distri­bu­tion and rapid ex­pan­sion of these egrets in South Africa, as with most coun­tries, is be­cause of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion and is the rea­son why they have be­come closely re­lated to our live­stock. It was dis­cov­ered on the first cat­tle farms that these birds were an asset to cat­tle herds as they would pick the ticks and flies off of the cat­tle, help­ing the cat­tle rid them­selves of their par­a­sites. It is not the only rea­son why they walk amongst cat­tle and other larger an­i­mals; they do this be­cause the an­i­mals dis­turb in­sects that fly or move off of the grasses which the egrets then prey on.

It was be­cause of their par­a­site eat­ing from cat­tle that the pop­u­la­tion ex­panded due to hu­man in­ter­ac­tion from orig­i­nally be­ing in Spain, Por­tu­gal, sub­trop­i­cal Africa and Asia to pop­u­lat­ing many more coun­tries in the world. For ex­am­ple, the birds were in­tro­duced into Hawaii to help with their cat­tle farms as the par­a­site count on their cat­tle was very high.

To­day it is un­likely to see a herd of cat­tle with­out a few or a flock of cat­tle egrets walk­ing amongst them. With the many ques­tions as to why they do this, hope­fully I have put such queries to rest.

I was called by a friend one day to please help as she found an in­jured cat­tle egret in her home. I went to col­lect the bird and much to my sur­prise found that it was very calm even though it was a wild bird. It tried to es­cape of course, as nat­u­rally its in­stincts tells it to, but did not try to bite or kick or at­tack as you would ex­pect a wild an­i­mal or bird to do. When I picked it up, it was so soft; it felt like I was pick­ing up a pile of soft fluffy feath­ers that had es­caped from a pil­low; it was ex­tremely light as well. As I picked it up, it im­me­di­ately went still and awaited my next move, which was to put it in a box and take it to the vet. Zo­diac Vet in Brits came to its res­cue. They fixed up its wing and gave it to a well-known bird park owner in our area named Greg who is re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing it.

The cat­tle egret has mostly bril­liant white feath­ers ex­cept for a few brown feath­ers that look like a bib on its chest

and a few brown feath­ers on its crown.

It be­comes quite brown when it is in its breed­ing plumage. Its legs are an olive-yel­low to dark grey, some­times ap­pear­ing black, with black­ish feet. It has a short heavy bill that is a yel­low orange colour. The eye is yel­low with a black outer ring. Some cat­tle egrets have the most spec­tac­u­lar leg and fa­cial breed­ing colours. When I first saw it on a cat­tle egret when we did a wa­ter bird count on Har­ties in the breed­ing sea­son I thought the bird was ra­dioac­tive, it was quite spec­tac­u­lar. The face had this beau­ti­ful pur­ple, pink, orange and yel­low colour­ing that ex­tended from the face to the tip of its beak. The feath­ers on the head were a bright orange brown as well as the feath­ers on the bib. His crest was up and chest feath­ers pushed out. The legs were a very bright pink and red colour. If this bird was try­ing to make a state­ment, it most cer­tainly did. I couldn’t stop star­ing at its re­mark­able colour­ing. The main photo shows this very colour­ing and dis­play.

Cat­tle egrets are found through­out South­ern Africa save for a small piece along the dryer parts of the Namib­ian Skele­ton Coast; al­though some ar­eas that were less com­monly pop­u­lated be­fore are slowly be­com­ing more com­monly pop­u­lated due to the rea­sons given above and over­pop­u­la­tion. They are more com­monly found but not lim­ited to; grass­lands, agri­cul­tural and live­stock fields as well as along the coast­line.

Their diet con­sists of in­sects, ticks, frogs and other ver­te­brates. When they feed in fields it is quiet fun to watch them. They wig­gle their necks and head as if dis­play­ing to an in­sect and then zap, the in­sect be­comes lunch. They do this to make the in­sects think that they are part of the grass that is mov­ing.

Cat­tle egrets are colo­nial and pre­fer to roost or nest in trees close to wa­ter but do not limit them­selves to this habi­tat as they will also use trees in agri­cul­tural ar­eas or even far away from wa­ter. They will how­ever stay close to ar­eas where food is plen­ti­ful. They will also nest close to or with herons, ibis, cor­morants and darters; how­ever the nests are well be­low the larger heron species.

Their nest is a saucer shape in a dry tree loosely made up of dry twigs and weed- or reed-stems. Nests are of­ten made close to one another and of­ten touch. Both sexes build the nest, brood the eggs and tend to the young. The clutch size is of­ten three eggs but can be up to seven eggs; how­ever any­thing more than three usu­ally dies due to star­va­tion or pre­da­tion.

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate a bird species just be­cause you see it of­ten or see many of them, they may play a more sig­nif­i­cant role in our lives then you might have thought.

Happy Bird­ing

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