by Lowell Washburn
Arrayed in a dazzling cloak of pure white, the great egret is one of the world’s most spectacular birds. A long-distance migrant, the huge bird is equally at home on northern Minnesota lakes during summer and balmy West Indies lagoons in winter. In Northern Iowa, the month of September offers peak viewing as migrating egrets, along with other wading birds, concentrate around aquatic food sources.
Masters of stealth; egrets are superb fishermen. To watch them stalk and capture fish is to observe poetry in motion. Slowly wading the shallows, the long-legged hunter keeps a sharp eye for the slightest movement or ripple that will give away the underwater location of its prey. Once a fish is detected, the bird tightens up and cocks its head in the direction of its intended meal. Assessing the situation, the egret makes its final calculation, takes careful aim, and makes its play. The water flies as the tall wader makes a deadly thrust with its yellow spear. More often than not, the strike is successful. After repositioning its catch, the egret swallows its prey, headfirst in a single gulp.