It’s March and once again the snowy egret has left the wetland area near my house in Fish Bay on St. John. I believe this same bird was friendly with the scarlet ibis last year and returned for the winter so they could hang out together again.
The snowy egret often walks right behind the scarlet ibis, and may be benefitting from this position when small fish and other creatures in the water get stirred up by the ibis. The ibis is not fishing itself. It generally sticks its long, curved bill deep into the mud to locate small crustaceans and insects.
Still, it is difficult not to project some kind of romantic story on these two, given how closely they stick together during their time together. And how unhappy they look when the snowy egret is getting ready to leave. Particularly the ibis.
I assume the snowy egret is leaving because it is time to breed, and that means going somewhere else to find a mate, as there is no snowy partner available in this pond. Since this snowy egret seems to be migratory, it would probably fly over toward the east coast of the US. Or possibly just to another island not so far away. I have read that some snowy egrets breed in this area, but I am not sure where.
Of course the scarlet ibis could also fly over to Necker Island in the BVIs to look for a suitable partner from the flock there. But possibly that flock is too big now and there isn’t enough food for a larger group. Maybe that’s why this scarlet ibis wandered over to St. John in the first place. And why more of them should come over now.
Meanwhile this one scarlet ibis seems lonely and has been seeking out other companions.
Sadly, an early morning visit with the yellow-crowned night heron did not go very well. The ibis dropped down too close and angered the normally placid night heron, which was probably getting ready to go to sleep after a hard night catching land crabs.
Ruffled up feathers quickly led to threatening behavior from the night heron.
After that, the scarlet ibis avoided another confrontation by sneaking behind the night heron to get to the other side of the pond.
This little blue heron, which was already fishing in the pond, is generally not very friendly to other birds. Although it did let the scarlet ibis tag along at a short distance behind, I don’t think they will become pals.
Though I am delighted to have the scarlet ibis nearby, I do feel it is a bit sad. But maybe I am just projecting.
Gail Karlsson is an environmental lawyer, writer and photographer. She is the author of two books about the Virgin Islands – The Wild Life in an Island House, and the guide book Learning About Trees and Plants – A Project of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John. She has also recently published A Birds’ Guide to The Battery and New York Harbor. Follow her on Instagram @gailkarlsson and gvkarlsson.blogspot.com.