The Great Egret... A Symbol of Conservation

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

It’s a cool Saturday morning in April as I tread my way through the shallow, wet prairies of the Dwarf Cypress Forest in Everglades National Park. This is a new area of the park (for me) that I decided to explore today. The marsh grass is over two feet high in some areas; and the water is shin-deep and cold... but refreshing. I’m making my way to a couple of dwarf cypress trees hoping to make a good landscape photo shot. I proceed with cautious steps, using my hiking stick to prod ahead of me for holes or tripping points.


Another point to having a hiking stick when on these adventures is to alert any residents of The Glades of an “unwanted guest” (me) during the walk. Alligators and pythons are always a concern when on swamp walks. Prodding ahead of my steps would prevent me from stepping on these animals or others. However, the grass is dense enough that gators are less of a concern than the snakes. But I am always watchful. I am in their home, and I have nothing but respect for nature.


As I near my destination, I startle a different resident of The Everglades. A great egret flaps its wings in a rush and gargles its deep caw at me as it takes off. As I watch this beautiful bird tuck its long neck in and take a couple longer strokes of its wings, I can’t help but to admire the gracefulness in its flight. I continue onward to the dwarf cypress trees and finish my shoot for the day.


What a great pose! During breeding season, the skin around the eyes extending to the bill (called lores) of the Great Egret turns to a beautiful shade of green.

Photo taken at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida

 

Great Egret - Photo taken at Everglades National Park, Florida


In my travels around Florida and the United States, I find this bird often. However, this was not always the case. In the late 1800’s the great egret was hunted to the brink of extinction for its beautiful mating plumes. These plumes, called aigrettes, would be used as a decoration for ladies’ hats and other fashionable wear. As this bird’s numbers declined significantly, a call for conservation ensued to protect these birds and others of the like that were killed for the same reasons.


The history of the conservation for the great egret and other birds endangered during the late 1800’s is a great story. In 1886, George Bird Grinnell, who was the editor for Forest and Stream, recognized the mass killing of birds for their feathers to be used in fashion was drastically diminishing their numbers to the point of extinction. Grinnell was a fan of John James Audubon’s drawings and work in his book Ornithological Biography. As a result, Grinnell decided to create an organization to protect and educate on the conservation of the birds of America in Aububon’s namesake. This organization became the foundation for which the National Audubon Society was created, which was officially established in 1895.


Since its establishment, The National Audubon Society has been the pillar of conservation for wildlife, specifically birds, in America. Today the organization has over 500 chapters throughout the U.S. and North America, with well over 600,000 members dedicated to education and conservation. The great egret is only one of many great stories of how this organization helped to save a species in the United States. Fittingly enough, the great egret became the symbol for The National Audubon Society in 1953, and a symbol for conservation.


This Great Egret stands tall on top of a small mangrove patch waiting and watching for a snack to swim by. This photo was taken at Ten-Thousand Islands Preserve just west of Marco Island, Florida and is a great spot for birding... especially at sunset when flocks of various species come in to roost for the night.



There’s so much more to this story that I can tell. However, my goal is also to educate you (the reader) about this organization and how they help. As a professional wildlife and landscape photographer, I have been blessed to see the beauty of our natural world and my heart has been etched with these visions. I am an advocate for conservation and the protection of those ecosystems within which wildlife thrives, such as the great egret and The Everglades. I encourage you to learn more about our natural world and what makes it tick. And I am here to help you with this education. Feel free to email me with any questions, book an educational photography tour and hike with me through The Everglades or other Florida parks, or on how you can do your part to help with conservation. micah@birdseyegallery.com


Thank you for your support and following my blogs. Here are some more photos of the Great Egret.


This adult, parent Great Egret stands over its hatchlings in the nest. Look closely and you can see them.

 

Great Egret siblings often bicker and fight for food, space, and attention while still in the nest. Sadly enough, sibling Great Egrets may even kill the other. This phenomenon is called siblicide. Hopefully these two little ones will grow up together and continue adding to the egret population.

 

This year's breeding season at Wakodahatchee Wetlands was off the charts! Babies, babies, and MORE babies!

 

"Lunch Time!" has become one of my most shared, liked, and featured photos from this year's breeding season at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida.

The above four photos were from the SAME nest. Look at the progressive growth. Soon these two little ones will take flight. After hatching, these Great Egret babies will be ready to fly in about 7 weeks.

 

This male Great Egret is showing off, doing his dance to attract a mate to the nest he built.

Photo taken at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida.

 

I know... I cut off part of the bird's beak. No one is perfect. This Great Egret was sitting pretty and I was trying to get a shot of the bird and the glow of the water in the background when it decided to take off.

This photo was taken at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve Park in Big Cypress, Florida.

 

I caught this shot on one of my swamp walk tours at Fakahatchee Strand, Big Cypress, Florida.

 

"Incoming!" The sun was fading quickly at Ten-Thousand Islands near Marco Island, Florida when this Great Egret came soaring in for a landing in the shallow waters. I really love the silhouette reflection in the water.


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