Pacific Reef Egret: A fish too large to handle

“On a recent visit to Singapore’s Cyrene Reef, I counted 5 white phased and 3 dark phased Pacific Reef Egrets (Egretta sacra) foraging on the exposed coral rubble and seagrass lagoons. This species will carefully stroll along until it spots a potential prey. It would then take a few quick but bouncy steps toward the prey, with it’s head tilted to one side. When it is close enough, it would stab its bill at the prey.

“One particular dark-phased individual successfully caught a fish (above). The fish appeared to be a rabbitfish (Siganidae). It tried adjusting the fish a few times, so it could swallow it. However, it had difficulty doing so and eventually seemed to lose it altogether (below). So, off it went, to repeat it’s hunting technique, in search of a more suitably sized meal.

“The Pacific Reef Egret is an uncommon resident locally and is a coastal inhabitant. The species is regularly encountered, in small numbers, around the southern islands and Pulau Ubin. Pairs or individuals are also to be found along our shorelines, particularly in the north, and along tidal canals and waterways.

“Rabbitfish have poisonous spines, used more for protection than to incapacitate prey. It was possible that the spines prevented the egret from swallowing the fish.”

Subaraj Rajathurai
10th January 2009

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