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Dressed to impress

February 18, 2018

At some point in our lives we have all dressed to impress a potential partner. Combed the hair (a dim, distant memory for me!), polished the shoes, put on sharp threads. Surprisingly some birds do the same thing (not the shoes though).

The bird pictured left is an Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) –formerly Ardea alba, hunting for dinner. It is the tallest of the Australian egrets with a head and neck being almost 50% longer than the body. Note the smooth feathers and the yellow bill. This bird, photographed last year, is in non-breeding mode, just mooching around minding its own business.

This time of the year is the breeding season for egrets and herons and some go all out to attract a mate. The picture below, taken this week, is of an Eastern Great Egret (not the exact same bird) in ‘dressed-to-impress’ breeding attire. During breeding season the bill turns black, the facial skin turns green and the bird displays erectile plumage that drapes over the back. If I were a potential partner I’d be impressed.

Compare this to the breeding display of a Nankeen Night Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) photographed last week on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne. It consists of one to three white plumes extending from the back of the head.

Sometimes less is more.

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