Understanding The Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret Nature Henry David Thoreau Quote
Originally published in the August 2020 issue of Lakeside Living magazine. Click here for the magazine issue.

“I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness…”

Henry David Thoreau

In the hot summer haze of these July days, the cattle egrets proudly sport their flame-like feathers. “We are the wild,” their piercing eyes seem to say, “the untamed.” 

Though we try to describe the beauty of the wildness we find in Nature, words pale when it greets us face to face. 

Hundreds of these egrets have gathered along the banks of the lake, like eager spring breakers out looking for a date. 

This particular cattle egret strikes a bold pose as he pauses for a moment, poised on bright red legs that look like sticks of rhubarb. Showing off their flashy orange plumage, the egrets strut about, all looking for love along the lakeshore. Soon, the dance-off begins. Hopping from one foot to the other, the cattle egrets fan out their freshly preened, ivory wings in an elaborate courtship show. 

When they’re not out dancing by the lake, the cattle egrets can be found near the cows and other livestock in the fields, which is how they got their name. Horses, sheep, and yes, those eponymous cows churn up insects as they graze, providing an automated and tasty buffet of pickings for the egrets following alongside. They’ve even been spotted riding on top of animals, looking like feathery cowboys casually nibbling on the unsuspecting ticks. 

They’ve grown savvier in recent years, honing in on tractors as they plow through insect-laden fields. Their imaginative methods grant them fifty percent more food for only two-thirds of the amount of work, making them the innovators of the egret family. Less work and more food leave more time for leisure, more time for dancing. 

These birds dwell in a world we can only glimpse, but the egrets live out their lives, not wholly unlike our own. They work for their food but seek to innovate. They thrive in a flock just as we understand the strength that lies in togetherness. They even like to show off a little from time to time. So maybe our worlds aren’t all that different; perhaps we’re all just a little wild at heart. 

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Cattle Egret Henry David Thoreau Quote Nature

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