Chinese Egret: A Threatened Species From East Asia

Chinese egrets are very active when feeding. (Image:  maxpixel /  CC0 1.0)
Chinese egrets are very active when feeding. (Image: maxpixel / CC0 1.0)

The Chinese egret, also known as Swinhoe’s egret, is a class of egret birds that have been grouped as a threatened species in East Asia. Its biggest threat is said to be the loss of habitat.

Chinese egret

“The bill [of a Chinese egret] is dusky with inner lower bill yellow to pink. The irises are pale white yellow. The lores, or the surface on each side of a bird’s head between the eye and the upper base of the beak, are variably yellow-green, to green, to grey… The legs are pale to dark green with green-yellow feet.  During the breeding season, the exceptional ornamental plumes develop to their greatest extent. Crest feathers are long and dense, sometimes over 11 cm long… In courtship, the bill is yellow-orange; lores are bright blue; legs are black, fading back to green-black, and feet are yellow,” according to Heron Conservation.

The Chinese egret has an average height of about 68 centimeters, with a weight in the range of 390 to 540 grams. They are largely found along the East Asian coast, right from eastern Russia and China, all the way down to Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. It only breeds in a few locations in East Asia, one site each in Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, and three sites in eastern China. Earlier, Hong Kong and Taiwan were also breeding sites. But as of now, these are just non-breeding passage sites of the migratory birds.  

The Chinese Egret is a threatened bird species from East Asia. (Image: Tony Castro via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Chinese egret is a threatened bird species from East Asia. (Image: Tony Castro via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

The total population of Chinese egrets is estimated to be around 2,600 to 3,400 birds. During the 19th century, Chinese egrets were believed to have been plentiful in some areas of China. However, its beautiful plumes attracted so much attention that people hunted the birds to near extinction. Large areas of its natural habitat, like wetlands, were converted into agricultural land. This habitat loss has played a crucial role in their population decline. China, Russia, Taiwan, and South Korea have listed the bird in their endangered species lists.

When feeding, Chinese egrets tend to be very active, following a receding tide with a great enthusiasm with their open wings in order to catch their prey. “The Chinese egret has also been observed to walk and occasionally run a short distance in mud before stabbing with its bill. Birds roosting at high tide on fish-trap stakes have been observed to jump feet-first into the water, wings held high, in pursuit of shrimps just below the water’s surface. Prey appears to be mainly small fish and shrimps, but crabs are also taken. This species probably feeds on insects when on land,” according to The Guardian.

Reddish egrets have a reddish-black color. (Image: Googieman via wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

The egret

There are 11 types of egret species known to man, of which the Chinese egret is only one. “Many species live primarily in shallow aquatic areas, like ponds, streams, lakes, marshes, wetlands, and more. They search for food in shallow waters, both saltwater and freshwater. Some species also live in agricultural fields, flooded meadows, and even dry areas like farms,” according to Animals Network.

Cattle egrets are usually found near livestock. One of their hunting methods involves following cows and eating the bugs that leave the large animals. Snowy egrets have beautiful white feathers that were once valued twice that of gold in weight.

The reddish egret is a rare species in the sense that they are not white-colored. Instead, they tend to be light gray or reddish-brown. However, some of the adults can end up looking white. The great egret is the largest member of the species. The U.S. non-profit National Audubon Society has the great egret as its symbol. 

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