Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lookin' For A Friend

Check this bird out.

No, it is not a Great Egret. Take a closer look. Yeah, it's a Cattle Egret.

A few days back (May 20th), this single bird showed up at Lake Erie Metropark. No, it is not the first time I have recorded them there. I had a trio on April 22, 1996. But it is certainly notable.

"Why?" you might ask?

Travel back in time 150 years and spend some time birding Michigan (or North America for that matter) and you would not have seen Cattle Egrets. You would not have seen House Sparrows or European Starlings either. While the sparrow and starling were brought here, from the Old World, on purpose, and have become the scourge of the North American bird world, the Cattle Egret is a bit different even though it, too, is from across "the Pond". They got here totally on their own.

The Cattle Egret is native to large parts of Africa and Asia. Somehow, someway, they got from Africa to South America. They are birds, after all, so they probably just flew. The first birds were noted in 1877. By 1941, they were in the United States. 1953? Successful breeding. It is now a very common bird in the southeast United States. They have been recorded just about everywhere. Michigan is well north of their breeding range but that does not stop them from blundering up here now and then. I have three records in the state in the last 15 years and have seen then in nine states if that tells you anything.

What about the cows? True to its name, there is an association with cattle. No, they don't eat burgers; they pick at the insects that the cattle stir up. There are cattle-like animals in Africa. Wildebeest to name just one. The egrets don't care. Cow vs Wildebeest? Same difference, right? The bird in the photo, even though miles from any cow, was certainly picking at bugs and other little beasties.

It is not all about bugs, by the way. I recall very clearly a comment from a park interpreter at the Dry Tortugas National Park when I was there years ago. The park, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, often has an influx of dim Cattle Egrets. "Dim" because they show up but aren't smart enough to leave even when food resources are small. If they don't get enough chow, they're dead. They will pick at the migrant songbirds when they can get them, too. Daily duties for the park staff include morning walks picking up Cattle Egret carcasses.

To the best of my knowledge, this bird did not meet the same fate as his/her Tortugas brethren. At least nobody, so far as I know, was dispatched to stuff its body in a giant Ziploc. Save those for the burgers...

No comments: