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Ibises and Egrets: Native Birds of Florida

Suzette is a retired teacher who has been writing online for more than 10 years.

What Is an Ibis?

Nature calls me to the lanai each morning and each evening as there is a constant parade of native Florida birds, butterflies, insects, and reptiles constantly piquing my curiosity and interest as they march by. I was never been a birdwatcher until I came to Florida.

I don't have to whip out my binoculars because the beautiful white ibises and egrets, two types of native Floridian birds, bravely walk right up to the yard and down the golf course fairway hunting for food, and, I sometimes think, flaunting and fawning—wanting human attention to look at their lovely, white, thin bodies. They are so cute and a joy to watch. So, now I'm learning about the native birds of Florida.

American White Ibis and Scarlet Ibis

American White Ibises are long-legged wading birds that like to inhabit swampy, marshy areas, and the beachfront close to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They belong to the family Threskiornithidae. They have long, down-curved orange bills. They usually hang together as a group.

You rarely see one alone, and they are always digging with their long beaks for mostly crustaceans and frogs. Most nest in trees with spoonbills and herons. They also live in Africa and Australia and they come in different colors and kinds: black, black and white, glossy, bald, and the most unusual and rare, the scarlet ibis, is a native of Florida.

University of Miami Mascot

The American white ibis is the mascot of the University of Miami here in Florida because of the legendary bravery they display during hurricanes. They are the last of the wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane strikes and the first to come out after the hurricane has passed.

Ibises are strong, hearty, and brave birds, and they know it. They are a bird with an "attitude" and a cocky type of personality. They really do love to be watched by us humans.

James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis"

The rare scarlet ibis has been used as a symbol in the short story by the same name by American James Hurst. He published "The Scarlet Ibis," in Atlantic Monthly magazine in l960.

I remember teaching this short story to ninth graders in literature class when I did my student teaching. I was so young and naive in those days, I didn't even know what an ibis was and had to research it in the encyclopedia so I could properly teach the story.

Hurst was from the south and was very familiar with scarlet ibises and how rare they are. So he used the Florida scarlet ibis and its untimely death in the story to symbolize and foreshadow the death of one of the main characters, Doodle. It is a tragic story and one I highly recommend that you read some time.

It was a short story actually written for an adult audience, but it was such an excellent example of the use of symbolism in a short story, that we taught it to our ninth grade enriched literature classes. The two main characters are about middle school age, so our students were able to relate to the two boys in the story. The scarlet ibis, being the symbol, is integral to the story and to the tragedy. Because of teaching this story, I have always been curious about ibises.

Egret, native bird of Florida.

Egret, native bird of Florida.

What Is an Egret?

Egrets are a type of Floridian heron bird; most are white or cream-colored. They are as large or larger than ibises and develop fine feather plumes during breeding season. They are from the family Egretta or Ardea.

The actual word egret comes from the French word, "aigrette" which means "silver heron" and "brush" because of the long feathers that cascade down an egret's back during breeding season. However, in Florida, egrets are white.

They became an endangered species for a while because their feathers were once used in hat making in Europe and the U.S. It is no longer permitted to hunt and kill egrets. Today, they are quite abundant and are seen all over Florida

Elegant and long-necked, the egrets are, I think, only second to swans in beauty. They have orange or yellow straight bills or beaks and yellow or orange feet. Their beaks are shorter than the ibis's beak. It is hard to believe their long, thin legs hold up their white-feathered bodies.

They also live in swampy, marshy places and along the Gulf shore. They are at the beach about as much as we are. They also hunt for crustaceans to eat. They love to perch on rocks and wood pilings at the beach and many times stand on one thin leg and tuck the other one up under their white body. Then they will stand motionless for about a half-hour at a time just staring at human beings, or staring out to the horizon in the Gulf.

Sometimes they fold their neck down into their body and then they look hilarious because it looks like a head stuck on a body with no neck. They can stand motionless like this for a while and it is easy to take photographs of them. They have long wings and large wingspans and are beautiful in flight.

I am enjoying my lessons in nature here in Florida. I have never been so aware of my surroundings and the beauty here is amazing. Living in a state where it is summer weather all year round certainly has its advantages and the parade of nature never ends.

Egret in flight.

Egret in flight.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 07, 2016:

Thanks for reading and I'm glad you appreciate these beautiful birds.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on September 06, 2016:

I had seen egrets hanging out at the low sea bed water, swamps in our country, I guess they were passing by.

Beautiful birdies

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on March 18, 2014:

John: Thanks so much for reading and voting. I appreciate your visit and I am so pleased you enjoyed this hub. The birds of Florida are interesting and beautiful to watch.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on March 18, 2014:

Thanks so much, Sunshine. I became enthralled with the nature, especially the birds, in Florida. They are so beautiful and graceful. So nice of you to visit and comment - most appreciated.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on March 17, 2014:

Beautiful hub about beautiful birds Suzette. Voted up.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on March 16, 2014:

Such beautiful birds. I just saw an egret this weekend, actually a pair, maybe they were a couple enjoying time together, without their offspring...they were catching some rays near my community lake. Great hub!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 04, 2011:

Thank you! I'm glad you found it interesting. I do, these birds are so interesting. Thanks so much for reading and commenting and voting. I appreciate your input.

Cresentmoon2007 from Caledonia, MI on October 03, 2011:

voted up! Wow, absolutely interesting.