19th August 2012
Privileged and humbled to visit with these beautiful elegant creatures a lot this last week or so.
The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.More than 95 percent of the Great Egrets in North America were killed for their plumes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Plume-hunting was banned, for the most part, around 1910, and Great Egret populations quickly began to recover. Since the 1930s, the egrets have had to contend with major habitat loss and degradation, as well as threats like contaminated runoff from farm fields or sewage treatment.
The pristinely white Great Egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late twentieth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.
Great Egrets live in freshwater, brackish, and marine wetlands. They hunt in marshes, swamps, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, impoundments, lagoons, tidal flats, canals, ditches, fish-rearing ponds, flooded farm fields, and sometimes upland habitats.
Great Egrets fly slowly but powerfully: with just two wingbeats per second their cruising speed is around 25 miles an hour.The Great Egret walks with its neck extended and its wings held close to its body. In flight, it is graceful and buoyant, with its neck tucked back against its shoulders and its legs trailing behind. Great Egrets form monogamous pairs each breeding season, though it’s not known whether the pair bond lasts through multiple years. Early in the breeding season adults grow long plumes on their backs, which they raise in courtship displays. Males perform most of the displays, which can involve preening the wings, ducking the head, holding and shaking twigs in the bill, and stretching the neck.
Egrets are the city bird of Xiamen, China. They dabble freely in the water and hover happily over the trees, creating many harmonious pictures with the surrounding sceneries.
There is an age-old legend in Xiamen. Long long ago, Xiamen was a desert island without any plants. One day, a flock of migrating egrets flew to Xiamen and briefly rested at the shore. The leading egret found that this island was surrounded by seas full of fatty fish and there were no threats from snakes and hunters.
The leading egret then decided to settle down with its companions and they started building their home later. Some egrets dug the earth with their beaks and claws to search for water, and others fetched many flower and grass seeds from the island and planted them in soil. The island soon became full of colour and attracted many other birds to settle down.
Such beautiful scenery drew the attention of the snake king occupying the East China Sea. The snake king, who vainly attempted to seize the island, turned the island upside down with it's fellow snakes. The egrets fought the snake king desperately to protect their home. Finally, the snake king was driven away, but the leading egret also lay bleeding to death.
A few years later, a big tree grew up from the soil that was fertilized with the leading egret’s blood. Its leaves opened as the winds of the egret while its flowers are as red as egret’s blood. This tree came to be known as the flame-tree.
After driving the snake away, egrets who could frolic in this place again became the owner of this beautiful island. From this legend sprang the initial name of Xiamen – Egret Island.