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Reading and Reporting Great Egret Wing Tags

Published September 06, 2013
Tags: General Observations, Great Egret, Wood Duck, Mallard, Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Common Gallinule

I had the privilege of assisting Celeste Morien on another marsh check last week. It was an overcast morning and our "work" began at dawn. The counts of water birds are being collected to help with the habitat management of the marshes in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

We recorded large numbers of Wood Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese, and Double-crested Cormorants and I was amazed at some locations where we found, not as great numbers, but still surprisingly large counts of Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Great Egrets, shorebirds, and Common Gallinules.

At Mohawk West Pool, Celeste observed that one of the 30 Great Egrets was tagged with an orange wing tag. Scientific studies are being conducted on the habits and travels of the Great Egret. Some young egrets are tagged with a wing tag before they fledge and the color of the tag they're given indicates the year they fledged. The tags are fairly large, are pretty bright, and are marked with a black alphanumeric code. They're quite obvious and, with Celeste's scope and the cooperation of the egret, we were eventually able to make out this egret's code to be 29L.

Celeste submitted the code to Chip Weseloh of the Canadian Wildlife Service. From Chip we learned, "This Great Egret with 29L (orange tag) was banded on 29 June 2012 at Nottawasaga Island, near Collingwood, Ontario about 1.5 hours NNW of Toronto in southern Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. This is the first report we have had of the bird away from the colony. It was banded as a flightless young of the year.".

Celeste is a retired New York State public school teacher, who, as a Friends of Iroquois volunteer for Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, spends time conducting waterbird surveys on the refuge.

If you happen to spot a tagged Great Egret and you are able to obtain the alphanumeric code on the tag, please send a message to:
Chip Weseloh
Emeritus Associat3
Canadian Wildlife Service
Toronto, Ontario
Cell – 647-631-4329
Chip.Weseloh@ec.gc.ca

Chip has provided the following additional information regarding his Great Egret tagging project:

To date, we have banded and colour-marked over 1500 Great Egrets in the southern Ontario area. Originally, we used coloured leg-bands but since 2010, we have used the wing-tags. So far we have nine recoveries, or re-sightings, of our birds from the Caribbean islands: three from Cuba, two from the U.S. Virgin Islands, two from the Dominican Republic, one from Jamaica and one from the Lesser Antilles.

Canadian-banded Great Egrets spend the winter in the Caribbean islands. In most of Canada, the Great Egret (Ardea alba) is a fairly rare bird. It only breeds annually in the Province of Ontario on isolated islands, or peninsulas, in the Great Lakes. Since 2001 young flightless egrets have been banded at four breeding sites in Lake Huron, Lake Erie and the Niagara River by the Canadian Wildlife Service. In the early years, egrets were banded with red leg-bands which carried white numbers and letters (see attached photo). Since 2010, they have been marked with orange or green wing-tags, one on each wing (see photos below). The purpose of the study is to track the bird’s movements out of Ontario in the autumn and determine where they go for the winter. Of the 53 reports that have been received of banded or tagged egrets from outside of Ontario in December or January, nine (18%) have from Caribbean islands. This suggests that nearly 20% of the Great Egrets from Ontario spend the winter in the Caribbean islands. During that same time period, the other 82% of the egrets reported were found along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. from New Jersey to Florida. You can contribute to this study by examining egrets for red-leg bands or the orange or green wing-tags. If you see a banded or tagged egret, try to read the characters on it, e.g. 32A. Please report any sightings, include the date, time and location of the sighting, and the colour of the tag and the characters on it to Chip.Weseloh@ec.gc.ca. Include your name and contact details. A colleague from New York (Susan Elbin: selbin@nycaudubon.org) uses yellow wing tags – watch for hers, too. Thanks – Chip J
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Great Egret with wing tag
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Young Bald Eagle surveying the marsh
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A Pileated Woodpecker flyby
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Adult male Wood Duck coming out of breeding plumage