A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

Long way from home

May 12, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

The bird was a long way from home, having attached itself to a small herd of cattle just north of Riverton.

The cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis, originated in southern Spain and Portugal and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and Libya. The species is native to subtropical and temperate climates and over the years has migrated south of the Sahara and, amazingly, flown across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil.

The bird is commonly known by many names, including elephant bird, rhinoceros egret, cow heron and cow crane. The names are indicative of its behavior as a follower of large, grazing animals.

The cattle egret enjoys a symbiotic relationship with large mammals. The bird eats the insects that are stirred up and drawn to the large grazing herds, ridding the mammals of pests.

The egret is so popular that it has been imported to many areas, including Australia and Hawaii.

The preferred climate of the cattle egret is changing, and one has now made it to Fremont County.

Cows and calves allow the bird to peck insects directly off their head and nose and around their eyes.

Cattlemen in many parts of the world actively seek these insect-devouring egrets, because they reduce the swarms of disease-carrying pests and can improve the overall health of a herd.

The first cattle egret in the continental United States was reported in Florida in 1941 but many thought it was just an escaped domesticated bird. As sightings increased and flocks grew in size, the egret migrated north and west and is now a common sight from Texas to southern Illinois and Indiana.

Until a few weeks ago, none had been officially reported in Wyoming, but the migration continues and now a new cow bird lives in the Cowboy State.

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