Maryland’s Great Egret

I went fishing today on the Potomac near Freestone Point and then the Mattawoman.  Fishing was “off,” but we worked the SAV lines hard, and with multiple lure presentations.

I don’t know if it was just me, or did it appear that there were more all-white Great Egrets (Ardea alba) around than usual.  In the summer I will always see bald eagle, osprey, blue heron and occasional Great’s, also known as common egrets and/or American egrets.

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The Great Egret’s plumage is pure white, the bill is yellow, and the legs and feet are glossy black.  The bird is 38-inches long and has a 54-inch wingspan.  Egrets eat fish, small mammals, amphibians and insects.  Egrets inhabit salt marshes, saltwater bays, swamps, brushy lake borders, ponds, islands and tidal flats. The great egret breeds in southeastern Maryland and eastern Virginia.  Most individuals leave the region around October and migrate south to coastal areas from the Carolinas to Florida and Texas.

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Several adaptations help the egret wade about and catch prey.  The obvious is the long legs, which elevate the bird above the water.  The heron’s toes are long and flexible, letting it keep its balance and stand on mucky ground.  The muscular neck delivers a quick blow with plenty of force to penetrate the water and seize a fish.  Both Great’s and Blue’s have well-developed “powder down,” small feathers whose tips continually dinintegrate into powder, which the bird’s preening helps distribute abouts it’s body, and the powder absorbs and removes fish slime and pond scum, keeping the plumage clean and dry.  Herons preen using a serrated middle claw called the comb toe.  How cool!

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