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Photo Credit: Terry Hartley
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Egretta rufescens (Gmelin)
DESCRIPTION: An intermediate-sized (76 cm [27-30 in.]) heron smaller than the great egret, but larger than the similar little blue heron. Color phases include dark adults that are deep reddish-chestnut brown on head and neck and slaty blue on body, and light adults that are all white. Adults in breeding plumage have long plumes on back, shaggy plumes on head and neck, black-tipped bills with a bright pink base, violet lores, cobalt blue legs, and black feet. At other times adults have bicolored, dark-tipped bill with a light base, and blackish legs and feet. Dark phase immatures paler than adults, appearing gray-blue with some pale cinnamon on the head, neck, and inner wing (Palmer 1962, Paul 1991). During breeding season, low guttural raaah calls are given during threat displays and soft crog-crog calls may be exchanged between displaying adults (Palmer 1962). Three subspecies described: the nominate eastern North American and West Indian race, E. r. rufescens, the more western, E. r. dickeyi, and the Central American, E. r. colorata (Palmer 1962). However, validity of those other than the nominate race questionable (Paul 1996).
DISTRIBUTION: Breeds along coasts of
HABITAT: Occurs almost exclusively along coastal lagoons, beaches, and estuaries; rarely away from saline environments. Prefers shallow water-foraging areas, usually less than 15 centimeters (six inches) deep (Paul 1996). Foraging areas include saline, hypersaline, or brackish coastal habitats including barren sand or mud tidal flats, salt ponds, lagoons, and open mangrove communities (Paul 1991, Stevenson and Anderson 1994). Will occasionally feed in other habitats including coastal beaches, the shores of lakes and reservoirs, and sparsely vegetated freshwater marshes (Paul 1991). Nesting typically occurs on natural islands, or man-made dredge material disposal islands and occasionally on the coastal mainland (Paul 1991). Prefers nesting in mangrove or structurally similar habitats such as Brazilian pepper, mesquite, huisache, sea oxeye, sea purslane, and Spanish bayonet.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Nesting generally occurs in mixed wading bird colonies, but individuals may nest alone or in small groups apart from other waders (Paul 1996). Both sexes build a platform nest composed of sticks that is usually less than three meters (nine feet) above ground or water. However, nests can be constructed on ground among low vegetation, bare sand, or shell ridges or as high as six meters (18 feet) (Paul 1991, Stevenson and Anderson 1994). Birds typically aggregate into nesting colonies by February-March and most eggs laid between mid-March and mid-April (Paul 1991); however, egg-laying can begin as late as mid-June, and second clutches may occur as late as mid-July (Simersky 1971). In
BASIS FOR STATUS CLASSIFICATION: Nearly driven to extinction by plume hunters between the late 1800s and mid-1930s and still has not recovered. In
Author: C. Dwight Cooley