Residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex are gearing up for a seasonal nuisance which has the potential to blanket residential streets in feathers and droppings. Each spring, North Texas faces an onslaught of unlikely trouble-makers: egrets. For the last few years, hundreds of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets have made a habit of establishing nesting sites in residential neighborhoods throughout the Metroplex. While the idea of egrets nesting in your backyard may conjure images of nature’s serene beauty , located at a convenient viewing distance from the back porch no less, the reality of egret invasions is a bit less glamorous.
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When egrets nest, they tend to make a habit of returning to the same sites year after year. Egrets are also highly social animals. They frequently nest in large colonies known as “rookeries” which may even consist of multiple species of egret nesting together. This means that a single pair of egrets one year may return as a colony of dozens of birds the next year. Breeding colonies of this size are impossible to ignore and can turn yards and outdoor spaces into quagmires of feces and feathers.
Nesting birds of such a size may seem easy enough to chase off or deter; it’s not like they are hiding under rafters or invading garages. However, egrets are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This act prohibits disturbing nesting migratory birds. For North Texas residents this means that once the egrets have started nesting, they’re here to stay.
Egret nesting season can begin as early as February and, although it typically ends in June, nesting egrets can maintain their nesting sites as late as October. For residents, this can mean as many as seven months of noise and mess.
Residents are not the only ones for whom these invasions pose a serious problem. Nesting egrets are not safe in high traffic areas. Egret eggs take up to 25 days to incubate and the young need an additional three weeks to one month to fledge. During this time, the eggs and chicks are extremely vulnerable, as are the adults. Egret rookeries should ideally form in thick vegetation, especially near ponds, lakes, and waterways.
Egrets can live for up to fifteen years. In urban and suburban areas, however, this is unlikely to be the case. Dogs, cars, and human disturbances can significantly impact the lifespans of egrets as well as the success of nesting sites.
So what can North Texans do to prevent the formation of egret nesting colonies? The city of Fort Worth suggests a few strategies. Firstly, tree-trimming can reduce the likelihood of your yard being chosen by egrets. Egrets build nests in dense treetops, so keeping trees tidy is a good first step towards making your home less attractive to them. Next, scaring off visiting birds with noise is another way to prevent possible nests. It is important to note, though, that this should only be done before nests are established. Doing so after a nest is established endangers the birds and violates the law. Finally, reflective streamers and helium balloons are also effective deterrents.
Successful nest sites are vital to the continuing prosperity of these bird species. Egrets are beautiful birds with vital roles to play in the ecosystems of their appropriate habitats. With an ounce of prevention, it is hoped that they will choose these habitats as their nest sites, rather than suburban backyards.
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