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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006


Great egret

* Japanese name: Daisagi
* Scientific name: Egretta alba
* Description: The great egret is the largest of the egrets in Japan. It is 80-100 cm tall, with a wingspan of 140-170 cm. The plumage is pure white; the legs, feet and bill are black. In flight, great egrets are languid, with slow and deep wingbeats, the neck hanging low. When they take off, great egrets often let out a crow-like call. Males and females look alike. They live up to 20 years.
* Where to find them: In freshwater wetlands and paddy fields from Honshu to Kyushu. Also in saltwater marshes. Great egrets nest in trees or reedbeds, constructing a platform of sticks. The nest is lined with grass to protect the eggs and provide some comfort for the chicks.
* Food: Mostly fish. Great egrets stalk in water with their neck coiled like a spring. The head is often tilted to reduce the glare off the surface of the water. When they spot a fish, they quickly straighten their necks to snatch their prey. The bird might also kick up the water and sediment to scare fish into sight. Their feet are not webbed, but the toes are long, so the bird's weight is well distributed and it doesn't sink into the mud. Egrets will also happily eat frogs and large insects and invertebrates, such as crayfish, and even snakes. They are boisterous birds, and if they can steal food from another egret, they will.
* Special features: Males and females establish small feeding territories which they defend from other egrets. In the breeding season, both sexes develop a cloak of feathers over their backs. Courtship displays include raising the long breeding plumes, raising their wings and arching their necks. Touchingly, male-female pairs may last for life. Females lay 1-6 pale bluish-green eggs, and both parents take turns to incubate the eggs and then feed the chicks. Unfortunately, life is not so sweet among the chicks and they often fight among themselves for food, and will even kill each other. The chick that hatches first (the largest) usually prevails. Fledging, for those that aren't killed by their siblings or by predators, takes place after six weeks.


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