All That Was – An Egret’s Tale

Egret Nest Site - As if it never were

All That Was – Egret Nest Site as if it never existed!

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.

Great Egret Mating Pair Nest Building

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.

Egret Pair-the nest they built

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.


Maternal White Egret Stands over its Chicks at 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!!


As Ever,







~ by Judy on April 16, 2014.

9 Responses to “All That Was – An Egret’s Tale”

  1. Tragic! I like the dialogue. Must have been a lot of watching for you.

    Sent from my Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8

    • Hey Dave! Thanks for reading the story of the egret nest!! I enjoyed so much seeing the little chicks but did have to ask Jamie Felton about the parts I missed!! But, I definitely do realize how many hours a naturalist, such as someone like Audubon, must spend to observe and record behaviours. You can watch one season and see many different things in another…so its a continuum of observing through various conditions and environmental pressures. There are lot of lessons in the behaviours of the large birds…they are a tenacious species!

  2. Interesting and sad story, but amazing photos as usual.

    • Oh, thanks for dropping by and commenting!! Nature must take its course I guess, but it can be a bit vicious at times. Even with these lovely winged creatures.

  3. Sad story but so it goes in nature where it often can seem cruel and senseless. But nature does find a way, it always does.

    • It is true. Survival and perpetuation of the species is the end point no matter how we may interpret behavior or overlay emotion onto what we see.

  4. That is the charm – and the curse – of Wakodahatchee. You can see the entire cycle of life up close and personal, and recognize the participants as old friends. These tragic events happen every day “out there”; but at Wako you get a front row seat. And thanks to your photos and story, those chicks WILL live forever.

    • Perfectly said Jim!! It seems every year brings a new point of observation. I am just always amazed at how diligent the parents are at the entire process of nest building and feeding their young and how they do react and defend against intruders. Instinct or design or both!!??

  5. Oh, dear. I missed the past tense in the title, and wasn’t prepared. I know, I know. Every year I tell myself that if every mallard duckling survived, we’d be up to our hips in ducks. Still, the deaths aren’t always easy to take. I comfort myself in two ways. First, I tell myself that they know how to be birds far better than I do! And, there is that little bit of scripture about how not even a sparrow falls to the ground without notice.

    So. On we go.A pair of sparrows here had their nest taken down by some painters. Once the painters were gone? Back at work. The drive to continue the species is strong, and what nature does to its creatures is more easily repaired than what we do to them!

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