EGRET FAMILY VALUES
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
Location: St. Johns County FL
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger
When planning your nest egg for the best of times or the worst of times, here is a bit of savvy investment advice from a native bird. It is always best to hedge your bets by hatching more eggs than you will need. Whether breeding or investing, it is a time-honored strategy perfected over millions of years.
Most large birds - such as eagles, egrets, or herons - will produce more eggs than they are capable of raising. Since all eggs need the same time to incubate regardless of when they are laid, Mamma Egret starts incubation after the first egg is laid and continues laying her full clutch over a series of days. Thus, the first egg hatches first, the last egg hatches last, and not all chicks start life as equal opportunity egrets.
The first-born hatchling has no competition for food and grows rapidly. Chicks born later are sequentially smaller and less capable of competing for food against the older siblings. Even in the best of times, only the older chicks will survive while the youngest will waste away. During routine housekeeping, parents will toss the expired chicks overboard, which inevitably become snacks for waiting gators. This phenomenon is known as ‘brood reduction.’