Although they are called cattle egrets, you often see them in areas where there are no cattle. In a car park on the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona campus, for example, which is where I saw these egrets. Not a cow in sight.
Egrets are one of the most easily identifiable birds in Jamaica, with their white plumage, long legs and necks, bright yellow beaks and their distinctive walk and head movements. A pretty common sight in many parts of Jamaica.
Yet they haven’t always been here. I found this report interesting, of an early sighting by Dr T. P. Lecky of egrets among the cattle at Bodles on November 21, 1956…nearly sixty-seven years ago…
I am so used to seeing egrets around that I hadn’t really thought about their origin and that they haven’t always been in Jamaica or been a common sight here. They are a fairly recent invasive species and a very successful one.
This article by Wayne J. Arendt – “Range Expansion of the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) in the Greater Caribbean Basin” – gives more information about the advent of egrets in the Caribbean:
The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) was first reported in the Greater Caribbean Basin from Old Providence Island in 1933. It was not reported again from the region until 1944, when an individual was sighted in Aruba, Southern Netherlands Antilles. Within 4 years, the species was reported in Puerto Rico and Jamaica more than 800 km north of Aruba in the Greater Antilles. By 1957, Cattle Egrets were successfully nesting in nearby Cuba and St. Croix. Today, the species is known from more than 50 major islands throughout the Caribbean Basin. Cattle Egrets show strong dispersal tendencies and migratory behavior. The first Cattle Egrets to reach the Caribbean islands were probably migratory individuals. Rapid range expansion in the Caribbean and throughout the neotropics was concomitant with increased animal husbandry and intense agricultural practices, including irrigation and burning regimes. The success of the Cattle Egret in the Caribbean region is also attributed to its high reproductive rate, exponential population growth, extended breeding seasons, and few vertebrate predators, owing to the region’s insularity.
And it’s not only in the Caribbean that egrets have been successful. In this article – How Egrets Took Over the World – Justine E. Hausheer discusses the fact that “In the past 150 years, cattle egrets have self-populated nearly every continent on earth” but says “Just how, and why, remains somewhat of a mystery.”
Hausheer says “These birds are so closely associated with their mammalian foraging friends that one birder I know refers to cows as ‘cattle egret attractant devices.’ And while most birders will see cattle egrets with cattle, they’re quite happy to follow any large, herding mammal, whether it be cows, wildebeest, or elephants.”
Cattle egrets originated in tropical Africa but can now be seen in almost everywhere in the world. “And while it may seem like they have nowhere else to go, vagrants are still turning up in Alaska and offshore Antarctic Islands.”
So back to Jamaica and the UWI (Mona) campus, where I photographed these egrets…
…that weren’t following a large herding animal, but rather a ride on lawn mower. It was stirring up the insects in the grass just as well as hooves.
Gaulin…Bubulcus ibis…cattle egret…