Spring and cattle egrets

One of the most enjoyable adaptations I’ve had to living in southern Portugal is the fact that spring comes in January. Having lived at the very temperate Oregon coast, I was already used to early springs, but the Algarve puts my old haunt to shame.

Yesterday, while walking through the park by our house, I came upon a flock of twenty cattle egrets in the rugby field. These are small egrets that often hang out with livestock (hence the name), gobbling up insects and occasionally other creatures that are stirred up by the herd’s movements. With the advent of modern farming, cattle egrets have adapted quite handily and are delighted to follow tractors as well. They’re unusual among herons in that they’re not water oriented; in fact, they’re grasshopper specialists.

This flock was working the rugby field pretty hard, stabbing the ground with their bills as they walked a slow but steady search pattern from the bottom of the field to the top. Several of them were already molting into breeding plumage, and one in particular was fully converted into summer finery.

(photo by Kissimmee)

Males and females look alike, so I can’t be sure what gender this particular bird was, but the behavior gave me a clue. Puffing and strutting, making aggressive lunges at some birds while displaying a look-at-me behavior toward others — what could it be but a female?


But it really was a surprise to see breeding plumage and preliminary courtship behavior in January. That seems ridiculously early, which tells me that I still haven’t adapted to the seasons here. It also reminds me that I’d better start looking for the house martins — they should be returning from Africa in a few more weeks.

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in Portugal, science. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Spring and cattle egrets

  1. Lockwood says:

    The daffodils, tulips, and bluebells are up in Corvallis, and the shoots getting longer each day. Primroses are blooming, a lone crocus is very confused about the season, and blooming. Dandelions bud, then bloom on sunny days. And when dropping off my ballot on campus Monday, I saw a rhododendron blooming, which startled me a little. We’re having an el nino year, so it’s been a pretty warm winter, overall.

    Haven’t seen any cattle egrets, though.

    • oregon expat says:

      I miss bulbs! We do have them here, but mostly one finds them a bit further north, where it gets colder in the winter. Every time I see a daffodil or narcissus I get a little pang.

      On the other hand, we have the fabulous agaves…

  2. Kugai says:

    We’re into Summer here – one of the advantages of living down here in Kiwiland is we get Summer over Xmas 😀

    Nice to have the warmer weather though, and with Daylight Saving on, sunset here is around 8-9 om the evening.

  3. Inge says:

    It looks beautiful, but rather annoyed in your shot.
    Can i offer the opposite opinion? I love having a winter with snow, ice, cold and wind. It makes spring so much more alive. It makes a hot chocolate so much more enjoyable to drink after walking/biking. It makes us dream of another epic ‘elfstedentocht’ in the netherlands. It brings out the best in people, when we’re all stuck together in the sudden snowblast.
    It has its own wonderful charm.

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