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A Special Rare Sighting, Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week", the "Reddish Egret"

Sep 08, 2016 11:52AM ● By Paul Spear

A Special Rare Sighting, Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week", the "Reddish Egret"

The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will  have background on the bird

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Bryan Brillhart Photography

the Reddish Egret

Occasionally I see a rare bird in the Tijuana Estuary in addition to our seasonal and regular bird visitors. This week I spotted one of these rarely seen birds there. This week’s “Bird of the Week” is that bird, the Reddish Egret, a conspicuously long-legged, long-necked wader of coastal regions, more tied to salt water than any of our other herons or egrets. They often draw attention by their feeding behavior: running through shallows with long strides, staggering sideways, leaping in air, raising one or both wings, and abruptly stabbing at fish. They are also notable for their two color morphs. Reddish Egrets are either dark or white for life, beginning with the downy stage in the nest. Mated pairs may be of the same or different color morphs, and broods of young may include either or both morphs. Over most of range, dark birds are far more numerous. Reddish Egret numbers were decimated by plume hunters in the late 1800s, and they were reportedly not seen in Florida between 1927 and 1937, but numbers have gradually increased under complete protection. Current United States population is roughly 2000 pairs. White morphs apparently made up a higher percentage of the total population prior to persecution by plume hunters.

This species reaches 68–82 cm (27–32 in) in length, with a 116–125 cm (46–49 in) wingspan. Body mass in this species can range from 364–870 g (0.802–1.918 lb). Among standard linear measurements, the wing chord is 29–34.3 cm (11.4–13.5 in), the tail is 8.8–13 cm (3.5–5.1 in), the bill is 7.3–9.2 cm (2.9–3.6 in) and the tarsus is 11.7–14.7 cm (4.6–5.8 in). It is a medium-sized, long-legged, long-necked heron with a long pointed pinkish bill with a black tip. It is distinctly larger than other co-existing members of the Egretta genus, but smaller than the Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. The legs and feet are bluish-black. The sexes are similar, but there are two color morphs. The adult dark morph has a slate blue body and reddish head, and neck with shaggy plumes. The adult white morph has completely white body plumage. Young birds have a brown body, head, and neck. During mating, the males’ plumage stands out in a ruff on its head, neck and back.

Habitat is in coastal tidal flats, salt marshes, shores, and lagoons. They do most of their feeding in calm shallow waters along the coast, in protected bays, and estuaries.

Reddish Egrets display a wide variety of feeding behaviors. They are often very active, running through shallows with head tilted to one side, suddenly changing direction or leaping sideways. They may stand still and partly spread their wings since schools of small fish may instinctively seek shelter in the shaded area thus created. They also feed more placidly at times. Diet is mostly fish, primarily eating small fish, minnows, mullet, and killifish reported as major percentages; but they also consume frogs, tadpoles, crustaceans, and rarely aquatic insects.

Reddish Egrets generally breed in spring in Texas, and in Florida they may breed mainly in 

winter or spring. In courtship, the male perches in the future nesting site, stretches its head and neck upward and backward with shaggy feathers fully raised, then tosses its head forward repeatedly. They may perform a variant of this display in flight. Males also walk in circles around females standing in shallows, tossing their heads and raising one or both wings. They breed in colonies. Nest sites are typically on the ground in Texas, 3-15' above water in mangroves in Florida. Nest, built by both sexes, is a platform of sticks or grass.

After breeding, females lay 3-4, sometimes 2-7 pale blue-green eggs. Incubation is by both sexes, probably in about 25-26 days. Both parents feed their young. Young may leave ground nests at about 4 weeks and wander around, but are probably not capable of sustained flight until 6-7 weeks.

It was exciting to see this rare, endangered bird near the Tijuana River mouth. You never know what you will find there. Get out and see what you can spot. Until next week, happy birding!


Bryan Brillhart


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Paul Spear, Editor,


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