Hungry Hungry Hippo Heron

Quick change of post plans. Originally scheduled to have a two-parter from Brad for these next posts, but I forgot we are sending him on assignment to a dark foreboding destination in a forgotten corner of the world in search of new post fodder. Sure, he was reluctant at first, but got onboard when I explained it was for the good of our loyal readers at the cost of relatively minor inconveniences (Malaria shots for starters). Personal concern for safety was quickly replaced with thoughts of National Geographic level grander and notoriety. Let’s all thank Brad for his dedication and commitment to you and the Intrigued family. If he makes it .. I mean when he makes it back we’ll pop some posts off his queue to feature while Linda and I are sipping umbrella drinks around the pool in a popular desert destination.

In the meantime, you are stuck with me and this here rather gruff looking Egret.

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about this blocky Egret more apt to be found in a dry field than standing in the water alongside the rest of its kin.

I suspect if you live anywhere in the lower half of the US you are already very familiar with today’s feathered friend. That is as long as you’ve had the opportunity to visit a coastal field, open grasslands or even a roaming livestock farm that gives explanation for its odd name.

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

The Cattle Egret is a fine example of a bird that has adapted to the land and leverages the resources available to sustain itself. In the case of those found near livestock, they will take advantage of the insects and other small creatures, such as Grasshoppers and Crickets, stirred up by grazing cattle. I am sure the larger mammals graciously tolerate these white clad lurkers milling about their feet and backs in return for keeping the Horse Flies at bay and picking off those blood filled Ticks.

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

The Cattle Egrets are quite adaptable and can also thrive in more coastal settings sustaining themselves on fish, frogs and related whatnots more akin to the usual Egrets and Herons encountered in those areas. I will say for the record, I have never seen a Cattle Egret actually fishing. All of my encounters to date have either been at the previously mentioned farmlands or recently in a local Hidalgo County, TX ..oh, and this discovery which happened to be at a zoo.

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

The San Antonio Texas Zoo to be specific. While wintering in Texas back in January 2022, Linda and I decided to check out the Alamo – my first time and Linda had not been there since she was a kid. Ended up having some extra time – that place was smaller than imagined (nor did I expect it to be located in the middle of downtown surrounded by urban sprawl). With the extra time we decided to check out the local zoo having heard good things about it. A bit of a sticker shock as they wanted around $25 bucks a person – luckily Linda remembered our membership to the International Crane Foundation which cut the price in half.

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

I must say, that zoo is really nice – clean, lots of interesting residents with primarily “natural/native setting” containment. Linda made it very clear she didn’t appreciate the massive yellow colored Python or Boa the handlers had brought out for people to experience “up close”. Once I got her extracted from the safety of a nearby building the rest of the visit was very enjoyable. I am a sucker for exotic birds and San Antonio has a mighty fine collection – many of the birds I have never seen before. Someday I should make a post of my favorite captive birds from our numerous zoo visits. We try to focus on the more free to roam wildlife here at Intrigued, but that might be a fun side adventure – not to mention our birding rules do not allow us to take credit for a captive subjects (link here).

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

You are probably asking yourself – “then why is he featuring a bird at San Antonio Zoo” – maybe with some demeaning word like idiot, lily-livered or bird-brained thrown in to spice up the delivery. There’s an easy explanation! Like Linda and I, our specimen was simply visiting the Zoo. Not sure how it paid the entry, but that is another story. No plucked flight feathers, no ball and chain and surprisingly no band – free to leave anytime it wants. I do think it was rude of this particular Egret to fly from pen to pen wearing a shirt with “Got flight?” on it. I made him take it off before I would agree to take its picture.

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

Astute photographers probably noticed this series was taken in the harsh mid-day sun. The Egret was busy strutting back and forth along a faux rock wall at the edge of a small pond where the resident ducks were entertaining zoo guests – putting on its own show trying to garnish some of the attention. White bird in a harsh light makes for some difficult exposure settings. Tried to retain as much of the feather texture I could without losing the detail in the rocks – ended up making the Egret a little greyer than I wanted. They are quite white with the exception of their signature brownish wash on their foreheads which become more pronounced during breeding season.

Cattle Egret found at San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX in January 2022

The western mature adults will also morph into yellowish legs. From what I can tell from the references, the western immatures and the eastern variety as a whole have a darker leg coloring similar to our specimen here. Will leave my international readers an interesting tidbit. According to Cornell, these birds are also known as “Cow Cranes, Cow Herons, Cow Birds (oh great, more naming confusion ugh), Elephant Birds, Rhinoceros Egrets and Hippopotamus Egrets (shouldn’t they have used Heron here) – yep names based on their chosen foraging companions.

That’s all for now. Hope you enjoyed today’s Hippo Heron (yeah, that is my new go to name for them). Best of luck to Brad, hope he took a lot of bug spray.

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