Little Egrets in combat

posted in: Heron-Egret-Bittern, Intraspecific | 0

“In September 2012, during the beginning of the migratory season last year, I was fortunate to witness territorial fights between some Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos). This year, in mid October, I was fortunate to have another encounter. This time, it was two Little Egrets in combat.

“It all started with an unusual sighting of an Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus). Unusual – because the Cattle Egret was in water in a small river. A Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) was nearby. As the Cattle Egret usually forages on land, I was curious as to whether it will forage in the water. Hence, I was keen to observe what it will do. As I watched, another Little Egret approached, gliding gracefully over the water towards the pair (above). It ended up landing between the pair. Immediately, the first Little Egret reacted to challenge the intruding egret (below). It had its neck well extended and feathers ruffled. Not daunted, the intruding egret raised its wings and turned to confront the agitated defender. The stage was thus set for a fight between the two Little Egrets.

“The fight began with the defender leaping out of water aiming for the intruder (below). Both egrets proceeded to chase each other in the water.

“The battle then escalated with both birds leaping high into the air and using their claws (below). Definitely, there were physical contacts with the battling birds grasping at each other with their claws. They then plummeted back into the water, where the fight continued with plenty of splashing.

“Towards the end, the head of one of the birds was submerged in water for a few seconds (below). It was clear that the submerged egret was at a great disadvantage. Apparently, it was defeated.

“As soon as the bird’s head emerged out of water, it attempted to scoot off. The victor made one final attack as the loser attempted a quick escape. It was only later, after looking through the photos, that I realised that the victor had a chunk of the loser’s feathers in its beak (indicated by red arrow, below).

“With wings raised in victory, it continued to watch the loser as it retreated from scene (below).

“Another image confirmed that patches of feathers were floating on water (indicated by the red arrows, below) between the victor and the Cattle Egret after the battle.

“As for the Cattle Egret, it was not bothered with the egrets in combat. Shortly after the battle ended, it flew off nonchalantly without a hint as to what it was doing in the water.”

Kwong Wai Chong
19th November 2013

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