Friday, April 22, 2011

What's In a Name?

     One of the things I really love about being a birdwatcher is knowing the names of the birds. I love having each bird's exact name lodged somewhere in my brain. And the names! Birds have such wonderfully descriptive names. Sometimes though, it isn't clear exactly what is being described. Like with a name like "Elegant Tit". But a lot of the time the name fits just right and is simple and to the point, like with "Cattle Egret".

Cattle + Egret = Cattle Egret
     Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are commonly associated with cattle. They follow behind cows and carabaos, snatching up the insects that are stirred up by the cattle. This ability to exploit man-made feeding opportunities  has allowed the Cattle Egret to expand their range as people have spread cattle farming throughout the world. They are found in every continent except Antartica.

     Cattle Egrets are around 19" long. When they are not breeding, Cattle Egrets are entirely white. During breeding season, they come into their breeding plumage.  The white on the head, neck and chest are replaced with long golden-buff feathers. They also acquire long plumes on their backs.

     The first time I saw a Cattle Egret was in December 2008. We were in the car on the way to Caylabne when we saw them in the fields by the side of the road. At first, I didn't even want to stop the car to look at them. I thought they were domestic ducks! They looked so tame, walking alongside the cows. That, plus their thick bills and white feathers convinced me they were "just" ducks. I was still a newbie birder at the time, and new to the idea that if you look, you'll find wildlife everywhere.  Even in a field of cattle!

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