Magic In Malibu
By Fraida Gutovich
Cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway towards Malibu always yields the promise of an adventure for me. As a hobbyist photographer whose passion is wildlife, I often visit Malibu Lagoon to photograph the local and migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.
On a recent visit I was returning to my vehicle when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a Great White egret flying overhead with a sizeable tree branch in its beak. As I continued to observe the egret I noticed it heading towards a large tree in the parking lot of the upscale Malibu Country Mart.
Curiosity and the anticipation of discovering something unique and exciting spurred me on. Crossing the Pacific Coast Highway I immediately encountered a loud cacophony of squawks that emanated from the top of the tree. Looking up, my suspicions were confirmed. The tree was home to several pairs of nesting Great White egrets and their chicks. There seemed
to be a constant flurry of activity happening 30 feet above the ground. I could see the tops of heads popping up between the branches and then quickly receding.
Both parents appeared to take turns leaving the nest, never leaving the chicks alone or unattended for any length of time. Often they would return with another twig for the nest or bring back food for their chicks.
Here are some interesting facts on Great White egrets:
Great White egrets are partially migratory and prefer warmer climates such as we have in Southern California.
Outside the breeding season Great White egrets can be seen alone or in small flocks of mixed species of shorebirds. When breeding they nest in large colonies, and at night they roost in groups.
The breeding season slightly differs depending on the region and location. In our area they breed between the months of October and March. Breeding age for these birds is about 2 years old.
Males typically arrive at the breeding territory before the females. They are responsible for choosing the nesting site and beginning construction before selecting a female mate.
After an elaborate courtship ritual, in which the pair bond is established, the egrets settle down to the business of raising a family together. The female lays a clutch of anywhere from 3-5 eggs. The eggs are usually laid at 2-3 day intervals. Both parents share the incubation duties and the eggs are incubated for 23-28 days. The chicks can hatch days apart and there are significant size differences between the oldest and youngest chicks. The hatchlings are capable of limited movement, are covered with down and are not born blind. Both parents feed the chicks regurgitated food. Competition for food is fierce among the chicks. The larger chicks generally monopolize the food during feedings while the smaller ones can starve if there is not enough food to go around. The chicks fledge when they are 42-49 days old. The parents will aggressively defend the nest and their young from intruders.
So the next time you’re passing through Malibu in the spring, take time to stop, look up and witness the magic of Malibu that is right in our own backyard!