Royalty-free Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

White wader of quiet waters

Do you frequent the Coos Bay area? If so, you most likely have seen Great Egrets slowly combing the marine wetland or slowly flying over the water in search of food.

The Great Egret is a regular local breeder around Coos Bay. Great Egrets are widely distributed from Canada, well into South America. They have also been introduced to several locations in North America, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and surrounding islands.

Habitat

Great Egrets live in colonies and use migration stopover sites that are near lakes, ponds, marshes, estuaries, and islands. These habitats are common to the southern Oregon coast where the birds seem to be expanding their territory. They are also present year-long in the Klamath basin.

Identification

The Great Egret, like other egrets, have white (‘alba’) feathers. Unlike other egrets, this bird stands well over three feet tall and often in length, with a wingspan that is potentially over five feet. Great Egrets are the largest egret species, but not as large as a Great Blue Heron.

Both males and females look similar in plumage and color. During breeding season, breeding adults get a bit more dressed up with a neon green face patch, darker bill, lighter lower legs. They also grow spectacular long delicate ornamental plumes on their backs. These feathers (called aigrettes) are used in courtship displays and almost drove these birds to extinction in the early 1900’s.

Food

Great Egrets are opportunistic carnivorous birds and will eat just about anything they can swallow. They consume primarily small fish but will also eat amphibians, crayfish, reptiles, birds, small mammals, bugs, prawns, shrimp, and worms. 

While they typically hunt while wading, they will occasionally swim or somewhat laboriously hover over water and dip for fish. They are strong flyers with just two wingbeats per second that will propel them up to around 25 miles per hour.  When flying, the neck is retracted. Other herons and related species (such as storks, cranes, spoonbills) extend their necks in flight.

Hunting

Their hunting style shows eminent patience as they slowly hunt or stand still waiting for prey to approach them.  They can be seen hunting in marshes, swamps, ponds, canals, ditches, streams, lakes, flooded farm fields, etc.  Great Egrets use their long, sharp bill to rapidly stab their prey and are known to sometimes steal food from smaller birds. 

Migration

Only partial migratory, Great Egrets will move to warmer areas in winter where the waters remain unfrozen and commute to breeding/nesting sites.  

Great Egrets congregate into massive breeding colonies and typically nest high in large trees.  They will sometimes choose tall shrubs, artificial platforms, or even ground-level locations.

Males arrive early at the breeding and nesting location. They begin building a cup-shaped nest using long sticks and twigs that eventually measures nearly three feet across and a foot deep. Once paired up, the pair may collaborate to finish the nest, though the male sometimes finishes it himself.

Status

Royalty-free Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

In the late 19th and early 20th century, hunters killed approximately 95 percent of the Great Egrets in North America for their breeding plumes. The plumes were prized for ladies’ hats.

Plume-hunting was banned around 1910 and populations began to recover. Populations have increased from 1966 to 2014 across the range, except in Canada. It has been estimated that there are now over 180,000 breeding birds on the North American continent.

Challenges to recovery and stable populations include wetland habitat loss and degradation, threats such as contaminated farm runoff, and invasion by exotic plants. Great Egrets seem to be adapting to nearby human habitation in urban and suburban areas.  Not all egret species are so lucky and some are on near threatened and vulnerable watch lists.

REFERENCES
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Bitterns, Herons, and Egrets (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/bitterns-herons-and-egrets)
–The Animal Network (https://animals.net/egret/)
–All About Birds, Cornell, Great Egret (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Egret/lifehistory)
–Audubon Society, Great Egret (https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-egret)
–Wikipedia, Great Egret (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_egret)

It survives by hanging on tight…really tight…

‘Crusty foulers’ will attached to just about anything (from NOAA)

Gooseneck barnacles or Leaf barnacles will stick themselves to almost anything—including each other. Barnacles create a tough, wrinkled brown connector stalk with an amazingly strong, fast-curing glue that is one of the most powerful natural glues known.

Hanging on tight

The glue has a tensile strength of 5,000 pounds per square inch and an adhesive strength of 22-60 pounds per square inch. Researchers are trying to figure out how this glue might be commercially useable. (NOAA)

On the other hand, many a recreational boater is also most likely trying to figure out how to get them off their hulls using a pressure washer. It is not easy, and some boaters call them by their slang name: “crusty foulers.” (NOAA, NAVY)

…some boaters call them by their slang name: “crusty foulers.

Habitat

Gooseneck Barnacles are very common on Northwest coasts, and often abundantly clustered on rocks, boats, pilings, buoys, whales, and each other in exposed or partially exposed areas.

They survive being exposed to the air by shutting a multilayered ‘door’ which allows them to conserve moisture. Once out of danger, they open the ‘door’ to feed. Barnacles send out multiple, feather-like appendages (called cirri) to filter and capture a variety of microscopic larvae, worms, algae, etc. brought in by the water movement.

A struggle for survival

Barnacles constantly struggle against multiple organisms for survival in a very narrow niche. Heavy barnacle growth can have negative impacts to the environment and humans.

If barnacles dominate that niche, it can limit other species (numbers and variety) and degrade their environment.

The U.S. Navy estimates that heavy barnacle growth on ships increases weight and drag by as much as 60 percent. Impact? An increase of 40 percent in fuel consumption! Imagine the impact to a whale!

There are more than 1,400 species of barnacles that are crustaceans like crab, lobsters, shrimp/prawns, etc.  Some crustaceans are edible, and the Gooseneck barnacle, is one of them. In the past it was used as a human food source particularly during fasts. Today barnacles are considered more of a food source for local wildlife such as gulls, oystercatchers, and sea stars.

References and where to find more information:
–National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, U.S. Dept. of Commerce “What are barnacles?”  (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/barnacles.html)
–Wikipedia articles (very informative) on Goose barnacles and Pollicipes_polymerus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…)
–Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife search (https://myodfw.com/search)
–U.S. Navy ‘New Hull Coatings Cut Fuel Use, Protect Environment’  (https://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=45984)

Gray Whale

People come from all over the world to learn about the gray whales that travel along the Oregon coast. This year the spring Whale Watching Week takes place March 25, 2017-April 1, 2017. During this time “Whale Watching Spoken Here” volunteers are stationed at great whale watching sites up and down the coast to provide assistance in spotting whales from shore. You may also want to get out on the water with one of the Charter Boats offereing Whale Watching Tours! 

Whales are visible from Oregon’s shores all year long although some months are better than others. In the winter we watch nearly 20,000 gray whales from mid-December through mid-January as they travel south to the warm lagoons of Baja, Mexico. Spring watching begins in late March as the gray whales travel north on their way to Alaska. The first surge swims by around the end of March and we watch the north-bound whales all the way until June.

Check out this map for a list of 24 designated locations volunteers will be staffed during the upcoming Whale Watching Week, including the location nearest you.