Great Egret-Ardea alba

Great Egret-Ardea alba

A species of ‘Least Concern’ in the IUCN Red Category list, the Large Egret, the largest of our Egrets is a beautiful terrestrial bird about a meter in height. It has an overall lean look and is a mesmerizing snowy white. It is found near water bodies, preferring slow moving rivers, lakes and wetlands. The long neck has a prominent kink. The forehead is flat and in line with a long bill which is yellow in the non breeding individuals and black in breeding individuals.

The characteristic breeding plumage develops only on the back. This plumage may extend up to 10 cms beyond the tail and is used in courtship displays during which the male bird may spread its plumes like a fan. During breeding and courtship the lores (region between eye and beak) may acquire a bright green to olive green coloration. There are two sub-species of the Great Egret-the ssp. alba and the ssp. modesta.

This specimen appears to be the more wide spread subspecies modesta because of a Grey black bill at courtship instead of a red beak with a dark tip, turning to black with a dull yellow base and red streaking as in the sup species alba and with legs changing to totally black.

The great egret has a very large range of distribution, occurring across much of the world, from Canada to South America across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. It is resident throughout the Indian subcontinent. The great egret is a carnivore with an average life span of 15 years in the wild. Breeding season begins in June-July in north India. Great egrets breed once a year, the average time to hatching is 23-24 days. The fledgling age is 2-3 weeks. The reproductive age is about 2 years for both males and females. They are seasonally monogamous and both parents incubate the eggs for 23 to 24 days. Young egrets are aggressive towards one another in the nest and stronger siblings often kill the weaker kin.

The bird represents a successful conservation story. The plumage was a sought after trophy and adorned ladies hats in the 19th Century North America. Great Egrets were killed in large numbers by plume hunters to satisfy this industry. The population plunged by almost 95%. The birds have since enjoyed legal protection over the last century and their numbers have increased substantially.

This specimen is from Keoladeo Ghana National Park or the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan.

Also see (An Instinct Denied) , (Kya Banega Phir Se Gharaunda. A Hindi Version of “An Instinct Denied”) for a fuller film produced by Srimaa Communication which discusses the breeding activity of water birds and the failure of nesting because of scarcity of water. It has studied the painted storks, the open billed storks, the darters, cormorants, cranes, egrets and the baya weaver bird in their wetland surroundings at Keoladeo Ghana National Park

©Srimaa Communication

Acknowledgements-Dr. Yashpal Singh, Mrs. Neena Singh, Mr. Rajesh Bedi, Manoj Kumar Yadav

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