If you see a Reddish Egret in the shallows of a marsh, just pause for a bit because you’re about to witness an exotic performance. With wings arched over its head, the bird leaps into the air then rushes sideways through the water. The choreography of crisscrossing feet is worthy of Fred Astaire.
We came across this spectacle on the edge of Galveston Island State Park in coastal Texas one recent rainy afternoon. The scene was transfixing: the egret leaps from the water one moment, tilts its heads far over to the side in the next and then appears to tiptoe.
Made all the more compelling by its willowy springtime breeding plumage, this bird isn’t dancing for our benefit. He’s busy working, and the grand finale is a beak full of fish.
In researching what may be the most beautiful of the egret species, we learned that every part of this comical ritual has purpose. When the bird dances through the shallows, he’s stirring up the fish. By raising his wings overhead, he’s creating a shadow that draws prey to within easy striking distance. A strange and gawky lurch forward is actually an attempt to catch the next fish unawares.