75. Friday’s Flyer: Cattle Egret

“As our city streets quiet, as people hang back from parks and paths,
and the busy noise of daily life recedes,
listen for the birds.”
David Arnold, President of the Nat’l Audubon Society


Cattle Egret *

The cattle egret has a relatively short, thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. It spends most of its time in fields rather than streams.
The cattle egret’s breeding plumage highlights its beautiful peach feathers, and it often appears to be wearing spiked topknots. Its legs and feet even change from black to a dramatic orange.

Cattle egrets feed on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, lizards and earthworms.
They forage at the feet of grazing cattle, heads bobbing with each step, or ride on their backs to pick at ticks.

Sonyanga Ole Ngais, a Maasai Warrior Saves a Cattle Egret

* Why feature the Cattle Egret?

This is the last day of what has turned out to be Elephant Week, and elephants have a special relationship with the cattle egret.
The cattle egret, while relieving the elephant of parasites, receives a free meal and a free ride as the elephant walks along. But the egret enjoys this same kind of relationship with a number of different mammals.
Elephants, on the other hand, aren’t involved in any other symbiotic relationships except that of the cattle egret. For the elephant, it’s the cattle egret only.

46. Friday’s Flyers: Oxpeckers

Oxpeckers *

There are two species of oxpecker, the yellow-billed and the red-billed. The Yellow-billed Oxpecker (image 1) is the more common of the two in Kenya.
Both species, also called tickbirds, have olive-brown or grey-brown bodies, wide bills, stiff tails and sharp claws. They cling to cattle and big-game animals to remove ticks, flies, and maggots from their hides. When alarmed, the birds hiss, alerting their hosts to possible danger. Though they rid animals of pests, oxpeckers also take blood from the sores, which may be slow to heal.

Source: WildEarth, The Oxpeckers Role in the Animal Kingdom, YouTube (Time: 2:33)

The oxpecker populations have been adversely impacted by relentless poisoning, but they live in such a wide range across Africa that they have not approached the classification of Vulnerable.

The Curious Case of the Giraffe and the Oxpecker

Oxpeckers are commonly seen riding along on large mammals while they search their hosts for ticks or open wounds. What’s not so common are the camera-trap images of giraffes at night with these birds using them as movable roosting spots. It is thought that this habit is an adaptation to save the birds time looking for the right animal the following day.

Night images of giraffes show that yellow-billed oxpeckers seem to prefer settling between the hind legs of the giraffe. This may be because it’s a warm spot in winter and keeps them safe from any nocturnal predators.

*Why feature the Oxpecker?

This week’s posts have a sort of Giraffe Week feel to them. Oxpeckers, having a rather important connection to giraffes, fit the theme.