The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 2, 2005


Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

(Photos by Tom Brownrigg)

On November 16, I was walking the Greenough trail that starts from Maple Street, south of the Maple Street bridge. As I entered the small Greenough fields from the woods, I looked north toward the larger field owned by the Nosowitz family, and saw a large white object in the horse paddock. My first thought was that it was a white plastic grocery bag, like those my wife D'Ann gets by the hundreds at Market Basket. When I got my binoculars on it, the plastic bag morphed into a Cattle Egret! This was exciting, because I had never seen this bird in Carlisle (but see below).

The bird meandered slowly around the paddock, and occasionally lunged at prey on the ground. I saw the bird grab a large insect, probably a grasshopper or cricket. Two days later, D'Ann and I returned with our new digital camera. The bird was still there, but would not allow us to approach too closely, although we were able to get photos. One of the photos shows the bird lunging at something on the ground — maybe the bird was thinking "gotcha!" According to the illustrations in the Sibley Guide (1), the bird was probably a non-breeding adult. We returned again on November 19, but did not see it. D'Anne Nosowitz told me that they first saw the bird around the first week of November, usually in the late afternoon, and that it flew towards Maple Street in the early evening.

According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (2), Cattle Egret is native to Africa and Asia, and was first found in South America in 1877, probably having migrated there from Africa. It reached the United States in 1941, and was nesting by 1953. The first specimen "collected" in the entire United States was in Sudbury, Massachusetts, in 1952, and the first state breeding record (at House Island, Manchester) was in 1974 (3). Ken Harte and Betty Valentine told me that there was a previous sighting of Cattle Egret in Carlisle, in the Valentines Acton Street cow field, some time in the 1970s, but they were not sure of the exact date. Wayne Petersen, Massachusetts Audubon Society ornithologist, told me that a few pairs of Cattle Egret still breed on Eagle Island off Manchester, but New England populations are in decline. Cattle Egret are common in the southeastern and Gulf coast regions, and winter from Florida to southern California and southward to South America.
Cattle Egret lunging at an insect.

Cattle Egret "tend" cattle by walking near the animals and removing insects from the animals and nearby vegetation; the cattle tolerate the birds and might even encourage their presence. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service web site (4) states: "On the average, by numbers of specimens recovered, [cattle] egrets consumed 59% horse flies, 28% grasshoppers and crickets, 5% tree frogs, 4% spiders, 2% dragonflies, 0.8% stable flies, 0.1% ticks and 0.1% undetermined organisms." The Cornell Laboratory (2) notes that Cattle Egret have been seen eating migrating warblers along the Florida coastline.

Acknowledgements: The reporter thanks Wayne Petersen of the Massachusetts Audubon Society for information on the breeding status of Cattle Egret in Massachusetts, and for his efforts to determine the date of the first Carlisle sighting.

References: (1 ) D. A. Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds, Alfred Knopf, 2000, p. 64. (2) Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology: (3) R. R.Veit and W. R. Petersen, Birds of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon Society, 1993, pp. 81-82. (4) Texas Agricultural Extension Service:

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito