We have all seen cattle egrets living among cows, horses and other livestock in Florida fields.
Livestock benefit from the cattle egrets picking horse flies, parasites and other insects directly off their bodies. Cattle ranchers welcome these birds knowing the role they play in helping to free the livestock of potentially dangerous diseases.
At times entire fields are filled with these white birds. There literally is a "white out" when hundreds of these birds fly away en masse.
Cattle egrets are fearless in pursuit of food.
These small white birds like to graze near pastures and roadsides. They are not big fans of the water. They catch insects stirred up by livestock and tractors, which helped gain the nickname "cow birds."
It is amazing how close these birds gather near much larger animals with no signs of concern showing from either party. At times, several cattle egrets will atop a cow as it grazes.
The livestock are pawns in the egret game of leap frog. A bird riding in front finds an insect and all the birds riding on the back of the livestock will jump forward to compete.
Merry Beth Ryan, a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association, can be reached at www.merrybethryanphotography.com, by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone (941) 544-5023.
Cattle egrets are social birds. They adapt easily to conditions and travel often to find food.
But once food is found, thousands of these birds will soon be feeding in that area almost in the blink of an eye. You will be asking yourself where they all just came from.
Cattle egrets often have light brown patches on their heads, back and necks with yellow legs and bill. Their eyes are positioned to allow these birds superior vision when feeding or searching for food.
Lizards, mice, grasshoppers, small birds, frogs and dragonflies are favorite cattle egret meals.
On Boca Grande, cattle egrets are drawn to banyan trees and their ripe figs.
Airports have had some issues with cattle egrets feeding so close to the runways. When planes take off the high winds produced by engines scatter insects everywhere ,which is a great feeding opportunity for this bird. They can be a hazard to aircraft. If the flock decides to move at the wrong time it could bring down a plane by clogging the engine intakes.
Have your camera ready when you spot cattle egrets. You will be able to shoot some great photos of these small birds riding on the backs of livestock.