Reddish Egret

On a cloudy, breezy day in September eleven years ago, on a walk with my father in Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, we watched a beautiful young Reddish Egret for several minutes. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photographs from that day, but the memory remains vivid, and my journal account from the time describes what we saw.

It was late in the morning, muggy and warm, but not hot. Several dozen White Ibis were feeding in the marshes, a few rising up in flight from time to time, and around the Ibis Pond we passed three juvenile Little Blue Herons perched like white flowers blooming in the dense growth of trees and other vegetation around the pond.

We had not gone far past the pond when I saw a pale, grayish egret standing in the middle of the wide, grassy roadway that formed the trail through the refuge. We stopped to get a better look when the bird was only about 20 yards away from us, maybe less – it was a first-year juvenile Reddish Egret. At first, my father kept walking toward it, and I was sure it would fly at any moment, but it did not. It seemed unperturbed. So we were both able to watch it at very close range for several minutes, a slender, long-legged, long-necked bird with a long, heavy, pointed bill – and even my father, who was not a serious birder and was usually impatient to walk on, was fascinated by the Reddish Egret’s uncommon beauty and entertaining behavior.

One of the things I remember best is its ethereal coloring – a soft, pale gray and rosy-brown. The Sibley Guide to Birds describes the wings of a first-year juvenile as a “unique pale, chalky color,” and this is what it looked like, almost dove-like, but more lovely than words can express. A reddish hint along the folded wing was particularly noticeable.

Finally, we came close enough so that the heron moved away, but still it didn’t fly. It just spread out its wings and walked into the marsh grass and shallow water beside the road, still not far away. There, it immediately started to search for food, opening its wings, hopping and stabbing at the water in its distinctive, unique feeding behavior, almost like dancing. We watched for several minutes more, then walked on. It was a memorable sighting – I could not have asked for a closer, more vivid look at a young Reddish Egret.

Leave a Reply