All That Was – Egret Nest Site as if it never were!
The male Great Egret chose for its nest a quaintly shaped pond apple tree near the boardwalk at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. The male of this species does the choosing of where he will conduct his mating displays… a location which becomes the future site for nest construction. From his platform of twigs gathered from branches of nearby shrubs and trees, he strutted his stuff fanning out the delicate aigrettes that adorn his back during mating season, to attract a mate. A beautiful female accepted the invitation and together they built a nest within the branches and green leaves of the small wetland tree. He gathered the nest materials and she was in charge of the arrangement and placement of the twigs. Even after mating and the arrival of three baby blue eggs, the presentation of twigs continued to ensure on-going maintenance and arrangement of twigs into the walls of the nest. The nest was never left alone to protect the incubating eggs and also to prevent other birds from stealing twigs from an unattended nest. This is a problem in a nesting colony where there is competition for materials. So the pair alternated sitting duties in order to take turns catching fish to feed themselves and eventually their young. They were partners in the truest sense of the word.
The Great Egret Pair builds their nest. He brings materials for her to arrange.
But, even as they made their nest, laid and incubated the eggs, there was frequent aggressive behavior from other adult males in breeding colors in the area. Sustaining the site seemed a fight from the very beginning with persistent intruders. But, our pair held their own, kept the nest attended, and took care of their young. When photographing the parent on duty when the chicks were about a week old, even a casual observer that day could see the furious flutter of aggressive behavior from other adults near the nest.
The nest they built. Three blue eggs are incubating.
My personal return to see the nestlings’ development about 10 days later was marked by the realization that something catastrophic had occurred. Among birds siblicide, or the killing of younger chicks by the older, reduces the number of chicks. Seeing fewer nestlings with time is not unusual. But, this was different as no parent, no chick, no nest remained within the curve of the branches of the pond apple tree. It was as if it had never been; nary a twig to tell the story.
It was unusual enough for me to ask other observers and I received various stories from the father eating the chicks to raccoons getting at the nest.
However, Jamie Felton, wildlife photographer of Felton Photography, told me the rest of the story and is taking the time to gather up some photographic evidence on her site. The father did not eat his chicks. After persistent sparring with intruder egrets the situation came to a head. For two days the parents battled with another male egret in breeding plumage to preserve their nest. On the first day the intruder succeeded in tossing two chicks from their nest and the last chick was left alone for a couple of hours on the next day, before the intruder tossed it out as well. The nestlings were not eaten but pecked at and tossed overboard. The intruder egret won the nest, then sat there in its stolen territory and displayed, looking for a female for two days. The killer egret never attracted a mate that either of us knows of as of this writing. I did see a male displaying at the spot but no new nest appeared on subsequent visits. His destruction of the nest did not pay off for the marauding egret.
Jamie reports further that after the first two chicks were tossed out, that one of the parent egrets was seen feeding the last chick and standing by for a time before it was lost. The parents were seen to return after all the chicks were gone to fight again with the new occupant…presumably at this point for the parents it was about the nest as it was all along for the interloper.
While we accept in theory the struggle for survival among wild animals; it is not something we are looking for, at least in such angelic-looking creatures! Whether the vast savannahs of Africa or the wetlands of Florida, it is all the same. Eat or be eaten, reproduce or die out. The pressure is enormous to mate and deliver the next generation. I think in a nesting colony that you see intensified competitive behaviors due to sheer proximity and competition for materials. I am uncertain why the aggressive egret’s choosing was of an occupied location since in other areas of the colony egret nests sit more harmoniously side by side, but hormones are high and our little family of White Egrets struggled and lost.
The great herons and egrets can have more than one clutch in a season and most especially will try again after the failure of a nest. Perhaps this pair will appear at a new spot and raise a new brood to fledge.
Unfortunately this story describes the fate of the egret nest on my post “An Egret is Faithful 100%” which welcomed the cute little chicks as we welcomed the advent of Spring!! I’d described it as a symbol of rebirth and renewal which I much preferred to having it turn into an example of nature red in tooth and claw!! So I do feel sorry to report their struggle and the demise of this nest.
Protectively Watching Over
Find Jamie Felton and her wonderful photography web site Felton Photography HERE!
Click HERE to link to her Flickr photo gallery and this new born image of the first chick to hatch at the very nest described in this post?
I thank her sincerely for answering my curiosity about the fate of the egret nest which vanished so prematurely!!