Bird Photography Challenge #24: Eastern Reef Egret

Easter Reef Egrets (Egretta sacra) have been a feature of our cruise around coral cays of the Capricornia coast these last two weeks. We had never seen them before and we thought it fitting to make these beautiful and secretive waterbirds the focus of our #24 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

Reef Egret-3This beach or reef heron, 60 to 65cms in size and with a 90 to 100cms wingspan has two colour forms: white and dark slate grey. It has more robust and longer beak and shorter legs than other herons of similar size. The white form has a white all over plumage. It has a yellow and grey beak and yellow grey legs. The dark form is grey all over except for a thin strip of white on the throat, and the beak and legs are grey also. Both forms have bright yellow eyes.

With relatively short legs, the Reef Egret looks more hunched over when fishing than other egrets.

How does it behave?

Reef Egret-8The Eastern Reef Egret is a quick and direct flyer. In flight the legs protrude only a short distance beyond the tail. We often saw mixed pairs, one white, one grey together. They breed in colonies, nesting in pandanus or pisonia trees, on a stick platform lined with seaweed, or else on the ground.

The Reef Egret fishes day and night for small fish, crustaceans and insects. It hunts its prey by stealth, staying very still for ages, sometimes spreading its wings like an umbrella to attract fish and reduce glare, then stabbing the prey with its pointed bill.

Did you know?

The two forms of Eastern Reef Egrets inter-breed and you can find both dark and white chicks in the same brood.

 Where is it found?

The Eastern Reef Egret is common along the Australian coast and on islands, particularly in Queensland. It forages around mudflats and mangroves. The grey form is more common in temperate regions, whereas the white one is found more readily in tropical areas. We were lucky enough to see mixed pairs together in the coral cays of the Capricornia Coast, where all the images in the gallery were taken, using a Canon 7Dii and a Tamron 18-270 lens.

Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen.

6 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #24: Eastern Reef Egret

  1. Wonderful shots of some gorgeous birds, Chris. It’s amazing that they have two forms like that and it is especially striking to see them side by side. I’m so used to seeing white egrets that the darker one seems even more exotic and beautiful.

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