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Go see the egrets!
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Cattle Egret

The egrets are arriving at the Bottoms and Quivira as we speak. Snowy egrets were the first that I saw. Great egrets have now been spotted. Cattle egrets have not appeared as far as I know.
This family of birds has a very interesting story to tell. Snowy egrets migrate long distances—birds banded in the USA have been found in Panama and other South American sites. They nest in colonies and can be very noisy and messy. Folks in Wichita have a large group of these birds that are a big nuisance. They have been stopping off there for several years, and always get some press coverage. It is illegal to harm or disturb them, so folks are required to respect their presence.
The Great egrets are tall birds that resemble a white great blue heron. They spend lots of time standing in the edge of the marsh watching the water for a fish or frog or bug to spear or snatch with their impressive beak. They are very patient birds and have a most elegant presence.
Cattle egrets are neat birds! They arrived in the states in 1953—probably blown off course during a storm that caught their migration. They have an orange plume on their head and neck during the breeding season which makes for some spectacular photography! They originated in Africa, and grazed with camels, rhinos, ostriches and such long before they adopted our livestock and farm machinery. We see them around the feet of grazing cattle, and they will also go for a ride and grab a tick if possible. They have been documented flying toward smoke(Flint Hills) to catch flying insects. They can be vicious hunters and will catch and eat smaller birds. For some unknown reason the numbers of cattle egrets dropped about 50 percent between 1966 and 2015 according to the USGS Putuxent Wildlife Research Center. They are not on the endangered list, however.
In 1900, the Lacey Act was passed. John Lacey was a senator from Iowa who recognized the indiscriminate slaughter of several bird and game species was depleting the resource. President William McKinley signed the Lacy Act which prevented poachers from escaping prosecution by crossing state lines. That was a huge deterrent for illegal activity. The Lacey Act also provides a platform for control of invasive species which is less recognized but also very powerful. It disrupts smuggling and interstate transfer of illegal species and is the backbone of law enforcements ability to fight the estimated $19 billion illegal wildlife trade industry. This act stopped the killing of egrets for their plumes to adorn ladies hats.
As this migration proceeds, we will see lots of egrets. They are one of the more spectacular white birds in the marsh. They are usually very patient and tolerant of birders and photographers, so access is not particularly difficult. Enjoy these terrific birds while they are here!

Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.