Like a ballet dancer dressed in white, with slim legs and a long graceful neck, the great egret performs on its natural stage. The egret is never far from rivers, lakes or pools and walks proudly with slow steps. However, do not be misled, those steps have a purpose that is much more basic than a ballet routine.
The egret is there for the food. Every organ in its streamlined body has been shaped by evolution to give this bird the fastest snake-like strike. It uses its sharp yellow beak as an accurate spear to nail a fast slippery fish in the water.
The great egret is one of the largest water birds. Its body measures one meter, with the beak itself 15 centimeters long. Its wingspan reaches two meters. However, with all that great body size, the bird is very slim and light and weighs only around one kilogram. That is one of the reasons why it looks so graceful and gentle in flight.
The great egret comes to Israel in the autumn during the migration season, and stays all winter, leaving us in the early spring. Its diet consists mainly of fish, but if the opportunity arises, the egret won’t ignore frogs, small mammals, reptiles or even small, unsuspecting birds.
The bird spends the day, usually alone, near bodies of fresh water. But when there is a good source of fish, a few of them will flock together. The egret that does not keep a minimum distance of two meters from its neighbor, and dare crosses this unseen border, may find itself in a dangerous fight. The second egret will stretch out its long beak threateningly and the two birds will point their yellow “swords” at each other until one of them decides that it is time to walk away to prevent a dangerous fight. Otherwise, serious injury can result.
The great egreat is a successful species that can be seen almost all over the world. Our sub-species, egretta alba, spends the summer in Eastern Europe, where it breeds in colonies. A successful or lucky bird can make up to 23 visits to Israel during its relatively long avian life.