04 May 2010

Waders on Wednesday-Great Egret In Flight

I photographed this great egret (Ardea alba) returning to its nest with a stick late last March at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm rookery in Florida.  Despite being a zoo, the wading birds that nest here are wild and choose to nest over the alligator swamp habitat for the protection the alligators give from mammalian nest predators (although young and sometimes adults also fall prey to the alligators themselves).  This time of year the males, in particular, fly back and forth from the nests endlessly presenting their mates with new sticks for the nest, despite the fact that most of the nests are already finished and have eggs by this point.  I've even watched one male present his mate with a stick, then pull it from the nest as soon as she had placed it and present it again, three times!  Watching these behaviors it is really hard not to anthropomorphize and imagine the exasperation of the females each time she has to get up off the eggs and accept and place each new tiny twig.  This image was made handheld with at Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens with image stabilization.


  1. Thanks for the laugh Eli! I can imagine those females exasperation quite well! It is funny how much we anthropomorphize other beings yet then they do something that makes us shake our heads...I wonder why the male keeps doing that even after the nest is finished...and why would he keep giving her the same stick?

  2. Thanks for the comment Juli. The answer to your last question is that he is all hopped up on hormones. He is cycling through a fixed behavior pattern that is part of the pair courtship. Some of these nests don't have eggs yet or their full compliment of eggs, so he is trying to convince the female to copulate with him and only him by proving he is a "good provider".