Reddish Egret

Egretta rufescens

Image by James Leupold, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • ARDEIDAE
  • Herons, Bitterns, Egrets
  • Ciconiiformes
  • Garza rojiza, Garza melenuda, Garza piquirrosa
  • Aigrette roussâtre
Introduction
An inhabitant of the saltwater marshes and lagoons skirting the Gulf of Mexico, the Reddish Egret is the rarest and least well-known of the North American herons. Unlike slower-moving hunters in its family, this egret is notable for its spirited foraging techniques.
(c) Charles Bush
Appearance Description
These medium-sized herons weigh one pound, and grow to a height of more than two feet, with a wingspan of four feet. Reddish Egrets have two distinctly different color forms: white and dark. White morphs, which were once thought to be a separate species, are entirely white, while the more common dark morphs, for which the species is named, have chestnut to auburn heads and necks and slate-gray bodies. Both morphs have long, blue legs and pink bills with black tips. Males and females are alike, with males being slightly larger.
Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
The Reddish Egret is a coastal species with a limited range. Seldom found inland, it breeds along the Gulf Coast of Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama, and around both coasts of Florida. It is also seen in southern California, Mexico, Belize, Cuba, the Bahamas, and other Caribbean islands.
 
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Habitat
Reddish Egrets forage in calm, shallow brackish or salty waters, flats, and lagoons throughout their range. In Florida, the birds nest on mangrove keys; in Texas, they nest on bare sand, or amid cacti, willows, and other shrubs.
Feeding
Small fish such as minnows, mullet, pinfish, and killifish make up the bulk of this wading bird's diet. The Reddish Egret's foraging techniques are among the most varied and active within the heron family. These techniques include extending their wings in a "canopy," to attract small fish into the shaded area underneath. They may also weave, leap sideways, run in circles through coastal shallows and broad, open tidal flats, and use their feet to stir up mud. They may even make strikes while hovering above the water's surface. The prey, once grabbed, is tossed to the back of the throat, and swallowed quickly.
Reproduction

Reddish Egrets reach sexual maturity when they are three to four years old. Courtship begins in the spring with the male positioning himself atop mangrove canopies or on low vegetation, and then engaging in a series of displays to attract a mate. These include aerial and stationary stretches, circling flights, and "crest-raising," which makes the head and neck feathers look strikingly mane-like. The birds typically nest with other heron species in mixed colonies, in small same-species groups, or occasionally, as isolated pairs. Nest building quickly follows pair formation and is carried out by both mates. The nests are constructed of sticks, lined with grasses, and located below the tree canopy, often over water, on mangrove keys in Florida, or on the ground in Texas. Clutch size is three or four pale, blue-green eggs. Parents share incubation, which is estimated to last about 26 days, and both feed the chicks. Young birds are capable of flight at about seven weeks of age, but they continue to be fed by adults for another two to four weeks.

Migration

Little is known about the species' migratory patterns, but in most places, Reddish Egrets are permanent residents. There are exceptions: some birds in Texas may wander as far south as El Salvador and Guatemala in the fall. Some have also shown a tendency to disperse from colonial nesting sites after the breeding season.

  • 67,500
  • 12,000
  • moderate population declines and very small population size
Population Status Trends
At the turn of the 20th century, Reddish Egrets were nearly extirpated from the United States by plume hunters. In Florida, none were seen between 1927 and 1937. Overall, their numbers have been gradually rising since enactment of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protected the species from hunting. Most Reddish Egrets are now located in Texas. Florida's population stands at perhaps ten percent of what it was before 1880, when exploitation began to take its toll.
Conservation Issues

Although the Reddish Egret population in the United States has been slowly increasing, the birds have not completely recovered from the decimation of a century ago. Because they depend exclusively on coastal habitats, which are at risk from development and environmental degradation, they remain vulnerable. In the West Indies, they are subjected to subsistence hunting and egging.

What You Can Do
For actions you can take, including Audubon activities, please visit our resources page.
More Information
Visit our resources page for more information about this species.
Natural History References
Lowther, P. E., and R. T. Paul. 2002. Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens). In The Birds of North America, No. 633 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1996.
 
Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000.
Conservation Status References
Lowther, P. E., and R. T. Paul. 2002. Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens). In The Birds of North America, No. 633 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1996.
 
Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000.