Dance of the Reddish Egret

When people find out I’m a birder, one of the most frequent questions is “What’s your favorite bird?” Sometimes I’ll give a flippant answer such as “My next life bird.” Other times, I’ll say that I love all birds and can’t pick a favorite – that each is special in its own way. I do have an affinity for Magnificent Frigatebirds, because seeing an adult male flying fifteen feet over my head while standing on a dock on Key West was the experience that triggered my choice to actively pursue the hobby of birding. But there are in fact some birds that are definitely cooler than others, be they prettier, uglier, sweet singers, or just plain quirky. One of these is the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufecens).

As you will see in this video, Reddish Egrets have some strange behavior compared to other egrets and herons. Where most members of this family stand still and wait patiently for their prey to appear, Reddish Egrets are active hunters. They eat fish, frogs, and crustaceans found in brackish or salty water in coastal tidal flats, salt marshes, or lagoons. First, they dance to stir up the bottom and get their prey to come out of hiding and swim around. Next, they chase after their quarry with long strides and neck extended a la Groucho Marx, usually running to get between the prey and the sun. Then they pull back their head and spread their wings to shade the water to remove the reflections and glare that prevent them from seeing what is swimming around. Once they find their prey, they thrust their head forward to grab it. The Reddish Egret in this video seemed to have a pretty high success rate. I had to wonder if the effort it put into catching such tiny fish was worth the energy gained, but is sure is entertaining to watch.

This video was recorded using a micro 4/3 camera shooting through a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope.

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