Egrets are a favorite of mine. Because they are large, graceful and found in many New England lakes, ponds and streams it isn’t hard for me to satisfy an Egret itch should I have one.
More often than not they are about the business of finding a nice fresh fish to eat —connoisseurs of Sushi so to speak. Among the various heron species of which Egrets are a part, fishing styles can vary significantly. I once saw a Reddish Egret in Florida doing what Arthur Morris likes to call the “Drunken Sailor” dance, unpredictably staggering around in the shallow water. This all being designed to scare unexpecting fish up to the surface and within striking distance of their perfectly designed bill. Some species will sweep their wings around into an umbrella shape, effectively hiding themselves in the shadow cast by the wings until an unsuspecting fish swims into range. I’ve also seen Green Herons fish from a low perch just above the water, long neck stretched out over the surface in search of prey.
But the classic behavior for Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons involves stoic patience. The hungry bird stands in the shallow water, legs and body motionless, eyes ever wary for a tender tidbit. When said snack is spotted the stealthy stalker extends its neck and head low over the water. From there it’s basically a waiting game. Lacking the equivalent of our hippocampus, the fish don’t have much of a long term memory. Stay still for a minute or two and they forget they’ve seen you or frankly anything at all. Still, it may be a while before Mr. or Ms. Fishy moseys over to within striking distance of the Egret and so the wise bird remains still as a statue until their hors d’oeuvre arrives. It is this pose that epitomizes patience. Then in a flash, the head stretches forward, bill parts the water snaps up a seafood treat. A quick flip up in the air to position the nosh head down and “gulp”, the deed is done. We often denigrate animal intelligence but how many of us can be so purposefully patient while awaiting our reward.