RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – As the sun slowly rises over wetlands in deep South Texas, clamor of birds greets the crimson dawn.
Soon, Reddish egrets stalk shallows in search of prey, peering intently into the glassy surface in hopes of spotting a minnow.
Sometimes, they run almost comically with wings flapping wildly, while at other times they immerse their bill partway and patiently wait before thrusting.
Not every attempt is successful, but Reddish egrets are remarkably skillful at snatching small fish.
It is nesting season for Reddish egrets, and there are only some 2,000 pairs in the United States, with most of them making their home in Texas, with the majority of those living in the Lower Laguna Madre.
Reddish egrets have two distinct color phases, white and dark. The more common dark morphs for which the species is named, have chestnut to auburn heads and necks with slate gray bodies.
This time of year Reddish egrets are sporting breeding plumage, and their eyes are encircled with a soft violet hue tapering into a pinkish upper bill that is tipped in satiny black.
Their elegantly flowing feathers were coveted by fashionable ladies in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Plume hunters nearly wiped out Reddish egrets, but they have been slowly recovering since given protection in 1918.
After several more minnows are secured, the egret takes flight for its nest where it will regurgitate the fish for its young.
Three hungry youngsters await their first meal of the day, and they aggressively avail themselves with the beak-to-beak transfer.
Some of the minnows fall into the nest, where the youngsters quickly spear them. It almost appears the parent is giving the chicks an opportunity to hone their fishing skill by providing a nest full of minnows to practice on.