Pacific Reef-egret – dark morph, breeding plumage

on 11th May 2017

“Pacific Reef-egrets (Egretta sacra sacra) are easy to see on the coast and river mouths of Kota Kinabalu city, Sabah, Malaysia.

“A few observations:

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 1

“The majority were of the dark morph. Phillipps states that ‘In West Sabah white morph is usually 10-20% of the population’ [Phillipps (2014) Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo. 3rd Edition. Beaufoy Books, UK].

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 2

“Many were in breeding plumage with ornamental plumes on head/foreneck and back (top, above).

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 3

“Legs are described as variable, mainly yellow to greenish with bright yellow soles [Martínez-Vilalta, A., Motis, A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2017). Pacific Reef-egret (Egretta sacra). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona]. But the majority I saw in breeding plumage had bright orange soles (above). You can spot this even when resting (below) if looking carefully as it is the under-surface/soles. I suspect it is often missed. Wells states that “Howes 1896 report a dark bird with orange-yellow feet, a possible breeding colour” [Wells, D.R. (1999) The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1, Christopher Helm, London]. I would appreciate opinions/confirmation from others who have spent more, all year round, time with these birds.

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 4a

“I saw pair collecting sticks for nesting and one partner (male?) would ‘fluff up’ in front of the other (below); possible courtship interaction.”

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 4

“There were 3 birds I saw that has a very light plumage. They cannot be considered the white morph but are much lighted than the ‘classical’ black dark morph; they are a shade of purple-brown-grey. This observation was not due to lighting issues. Two of them looked young and were not in breeding plumage (below). They both had a white patch on the throat. HBW 2017 states the dark morph ‘varies in coloration, from slate-grey to brown-grey …, with variable numbers of white feathers on chin and sometimes throat (this feature is most pronounced in Indonesian birds, but entirely absent in some populations in S & E of range); intermediate forms also occur…’ There are few bird with a similar colouration posted in the OBI database; some have been labelled juvenile.

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 5

“Although I considered these birds ‘immature’ or ‘juvenile’ the third bird that had a similar colour scheme was in breeding plumage with nice plumes; so hard to call it ‘immature’. It had no white throat but the legs were oddly pale with dark marking. Wells 1999 notes that ‘legs … often with dark marking on the front of the tarsus.

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 6

“The ornamental plumes on head/foreneck and back are well described in literature but little mention is made upper chest plumages. Some use its absence as a feature to distinguish from other species. All the breeding birds I saw had clear upper breast plumes. See images at top, above, below.

ReefEgretP [AmarSingh] 7

“The above image is one of two birds that were up in a Rain Tree (Albizia saman) pulling dead branches for nesting, showing the upper breast plumes well.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
26-27th March 2017

Location: Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Habitat: Costal region & river mouths in the city

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

One Response

  1. Here in Singapore we are familiar with the light phase. I know of the dark phase only through books. These photos are beautiful and truly enlightening.

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