Laura Dean Bennett
Several people around Pocahontas County have reported seeing an unusual bird in the river, the creeks and the ponds lately, like these photographed by Wally Clark, as they were hunting in the pond on Woodrow Road near Rt. 219.
It turns out that these are Great Egrets. They are ubiquitous in coastal areas of the south central and southeastern U.S., but occasionally may be found north of their usual habitat.
Except for those living in very warm places, like Florida and Louisiana, most Egrets travel south for the winter – as far as the West Indies and southern Central America. In late summer and early fall, Great Egrets have been known to range widely over the United States, even into the Midwest.
Great Egrets are stealthy hunters, stalking fish, crayfish, frogs, snakes and even small mammals in and around shallow water.
The Great Egret was once hunted for its white plumage, which was used on ladies hats in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They faced near total extinction until laws were passed to protect them. The National Audubon Society adopted the Great Egret as its symbol, and the species has made a remarkable recovery, but increasing destruction of its natural habitat has caused them to adapt to living closer to humans.
Tiffany Beachy, an ornithologist (technically a Golden-winged Warbler Partner Biologist) working here in Pocahontas County with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Conservation Service told us:
“Great egrets are protected under the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, as are all of our native birds. They haven’t been recorded breeding in West Virginia, but they are frequently observed in wetlands and shallow rivers across the state after nesting season. Numerous species of birds engage in this post-breeding wandering behavior. Some species travel hundreds or even thousands of miles in summer.
“Wouldn’t you want to go wandering if you had free time after raising the kids?”