A Familiar Bird All Dressed Up

It’s much cooler this morning than it was yesterday, so I wish today was the massive hay-bale unloading day. And, yes, I have a sore back and arms, but that’s not gonna stop me from getting out and doing things! Um, and theoretically today I’ll finally have time to work on the newsletter that’s going sort of slowly this week.

Anyway, I have a bird story. Every day when I wake up, I head over to our second-story bedroom window that faces the chickens and the pond to see what’s going on in the world. I can see dogs, hens, horses, cattle, and often birds.

Today, I saw two white birds by the pond. Seeing a white bird is not uncommon, since we have a Great Egret who visits often. These two looked like egrets, but not so great. They were smaller and had patches of a pretty salmon color on their heads and backs. They looked like this:

Photo from iNaturalist, copyright (c) Charlotte Bill.

I couldn’t get a photo, since my phone was updating its OS. The nerve. I wracked my not-really-awake-yet brain trying to figure out what it could be. It had a poky bill, so it wasn’t a duck. It had a long neck, but not THAT long of a neck. And it looked like an egret with a short neck and a short bill.

Isn’t that a pretty bird? Photo from iNaturalist, copyright (c) Charlotte Bill.

The phone finally finished updating, so I could look it up on Merlin Bird ID. That is one helpful piece of software! I entered its size as smaller than a goose, and its colors as white and orange. I couldn’t wait to see what exotic creature I’d seen, but not been able to photograph. I had to laugh when I saw what came up. The birds are a pair of cattle egrets in breeding plumage!

My own best picture of cattle egrets, in a large flock.

My gosh, I’ve been seeing these birds my entire life, but the color fooled me. Now I know they get all colorful this time of year. Looking through the photos on iNaturalist, I could see they can be quite colorful. I read that they get more colorful in some other parts of the world, too.

Learning about these guys (Bubulcus ibis) on Wikipedia explained to me why I’ve seen them my whole life. It turns out that they were first introduced to the US (escaping captivity) in Florida, where I spent my childhood! They were observed breeding there in the late 1950s, and had spread to Canada in just ten years. Wow. They also busily expanded from their native Iberian peninsula, too. I guess where there are cattle, they follow.

I have a vague memory of my mom mentioning that they didn’t see them when she was younger, which makes sense to me now. I strongly remember finding these birds very funny when they rode around on the backs of the huge herds of Hereford cattle we’d see in north Florida in the 60s.

I guess it pays to wake up and look out the window, because it can lead you to learning a lot more about a bird you’ve enjoyed your whole life! It pays to stay curious!

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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