Heron Cousins

I have been observing a lone great egret (Ardea alba) at Baum Lake (Shasta County CA) for the last month. This egret wanders between the shores of the lake and a nearby pond at Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery. Occasionally it perches on the ponderosa pines near the lake and pond.

Earlier this week I was watching a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) rookery on the shore of Hat Creek near where it empties into Baum Lake. This blue heron rookery occupies two ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) and in past years has contained at least sixteen active nests. The great egret flew onto the top of one pine and sat there for about forty five minutes before flying to another nearby juniper. The great blue herons were not disturbed by the egret and continued to sit on their nests or fly off and return to the tree in their usual manner.

Great egrets (also called common egrets, white egrets or white herons) are herons and taxonomically belong to the same genus, Ardea, as the great blue herons. Great egrets and great blue herons are closely related. Like great blue herons, great egrets are colonial breeders who build bulky stick nests in trees. I wonder if this lone egret was considering joining his cousins’ colony? It will be interesting to watch the egret as the breeding season progresses. Will it join the herons? Will it attract a mate? Will it leave?

Long, feathery plumes, called aigrettes, grow from the back of a great egret during the breeding season. These plumes, like the great egret itself, are completely white. I could not see any aigrettes on the great egret, but perhaps it is not ready to mate.

In one photograph a great blue heron can be seen on one of the four, at least, heron nests in the ponderosa pine while the egret sits atop the tree.

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