Doin’ The Wild Thing – White Egret Courting Displays

The Great White Egrets are most beautiful during the breeding season.  At this time they display very bright green skin or lore around the eyes and the gauzy  ‘ bridal’ train of ornamental back feathers which define their species. Egrets are in the same family as herons but the French word for tufts or tufted feathers is Aigrette pronounced ‘egret.’ The presence of aigrettes is one feature which separates the great herons and the egrets.  As the aigrettes disappear shortly after the appearance of the young, the birds were shot sitting on their nests in order to secure the lovely feathers to decorate ladies hats in the early 1900’s. The egrets were nearly hunted to exctinction and this practice was stopped.  Like the  Great Herons, the White egret pairs develop a strong  attachment for each other and the extent to which they will go to procure food for their young is extraordinary.   Pictured below is a male white egret performing ritual mating behaviour.  This primarily consists of preening, stretching the neck up high, snapping quickly back down and preening again. I find focusing on the birds during such behavior interesting as if you aren’t quite quick enough they snap back down in a blink!  It is really quite charming and I suppose the fairer object of this dance must see it that way when they choose their mate. I’ve tried to show a small sampling of this activity from my recent trip to the rookery.

These pictures were taken on the same visit last week when I learned of  the Great Blue Heron nest having lost its chicks.  Cycles of survival and renewal are still on vibrant display at the rookery.  Many species are nesting now including the Great Blue Herons, Great White Egrets, Anhingas, Cormorants, Wood Storks and others. There is always something to see!! White Egrets are always a favourite for their pure beauty and everyone seems to want to watch Florida’s big white birds!

White Egret - Elegant Mating Display with extended neck

White Egret Mating Dance – Stretching its neck high and fanning out its gauzy aigrettes.

White Egret Preening

Now Preening!

White Egret - Mating Display - Late Day with lush green foliage

White Egret Mating Display in a timeless and lush setting.

White Egret - snaps down from extended position-mating display

Mating Dance of the White Egret exhibits the high arching neck stretch to the sky followed by a quick snap down as you see here. The bird will then preen a bit or arch back up pointing its bill to the sky. It is beautiful to watch!

Black and White Treatment of White Egret with Aigrette Display

The delicate contrast of the white bird and its circular fan of plumage with the shadows and highlights of the foliage just called for a black and white treatment! Even though the greens in the late day sun are brilliant! I just love this natural setting!

Black and White Treatment of Mating White Egrets

Ah, here we have an intimate moment with a mating pair doin’ the wild thing!! I thought a black and white treatment lent a little romance to the scene! I look forward to seeing little chicks in the near future!!

“risk is full: every living thing in
siege: the demand is life, to keep life:
the small
white blacklegged egret, how beautiful, quietly stalks and
        the shallows, darts to shore…”

Archie Randolph Ammons

With Thanks,


~ by Judy on February 14, 2013.

12 Responses to “Doin’ The Wild Thing – White Egret Courting Displays”

  1. The photos are beautiful! Those plumed feathers look like a tutu! Of course I love all of these!

  2. Just beautiful! I can’t believe you captured such amazing beauty! Thanks for sharing!

    • My pleasure completely. I am very fortunate to live in an area with such beautiful birds. It just never gets old watching these gorgeous displays. Thank you.

  3. Wonderful photos of this amazing beauty in breeding plumage!

    • Thank you. I think the season of love comes a bit later for you so look forward to your Carolina marsh images with breeding plumage!!

  4. Wow, Judy…your photos have an almost mystical quality. They are so spectacular. You’ve captured such a beautiful moment. Thanks for sharing these works of art!

    • A wonderful and appreciated comment Linda!! I do think that these egrets with their pure white feathers and those delicate, translucent ornamental feathers do impart a magical glow.

  5. I wouldn’t have thought black and white could be such a great treatment, but it really is. With those white birds, it probably works better than it would with a darker bird. They certainly do stand out. And those feathers! My gosh, they are spectacular. I’m dying of curiosity about the fancy feathers. What happens to them after mating season? Do they fall out? Transform themselves? Just turn ragged and ratty from all that activity? Some birds seem to shed more feathers than others – it’s interesting.

    I finally made a trip over to some Lake Martin sites, and I’d better get myself over there if I’m going. Their season’s begun, too, and I might be able to see some activity. Getting out of here’s the issue – we’ll see. At least there will be species over there breeding into June. Later breeders include the ibis and roseate spoonbills, so I might be able to combine seeing egret chicks with other activity.

    • The aigrettes fall off sometime after the young arrive. I am not aware totally of the timing, but later in the season pictures when the birds still have some aigrettes they are not so luxuriant. That is why in the time of hunting these birds for hat decorations, they were shot right in their nests before they lost the feathers. Hardly fair play I’d say!! Their numbers were certainly taken for granted back then. The non breeding white egret won’t have aigrettes, the lore will be yellow and the eye yellow. Breeding white egrets have a tinge of orange to their irises as well as the other changes.

      I actually love black and white pictures and when an image lends itself well to that I enjoy the treatment very much. White birds are a natural for such treatment. This is not to say that a darker subject won’t work if the lighting is conducive. In the case of the mating picture above, I thought the branches and green leaves made the birds less noticeable. In the conversion, you look right at the birds, the luminous lighting and see them much better.

  6. Lovely!! And here are your wonderful egrets…. Just heavenly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: