National Wildlife Refuge System

Tracking the Reddish Egret

  Reddish Egret at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
       This reddish egret photo won second place in a "Ding" Darling Wildlife
     Society photo contest for Craig Goettsch.
       Credit: Craig Goettsch

May 4, 2015 – The reddish egret is the rarest and least studied wading bird in the United States, according to Kenneth Meyer, who is leading a study in the Florida Keys that will include more egrets at J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. This egret is known for its erratic dancing when it forages and is a species of critical onservation concern, particularly in Florida where the population is in continuous decline.

The third annual "Trailgate Party" held by the refuge Friends group, the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society, raised $85,000 for conservation support on the refuge, including $20,400 for satellite transmitters (matched with $9,000 from the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society) to track three reddish egrets for three years. Another $6,000 will fund a study of the prey targeted by the reddish egret as well as how those prey species are affected by water quality in the area. In the past, the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society has raised funds to support the mangrove cuckoo, another understudied refuge bird.

There are only 3,500 pairs of reddish egrets in the world, with 260 of these pairs in the Florida population, which is steadily declining. Habitat loss due to coastal development, erosion and sea level rise is a serious threat, along with human disturbance and predation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the reddish egret an indicator of the health of south Florida's coastal marine ecosystem. Refuge manager Paul Tritaik says the reddish egrets at "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge are considered a key sub-population and can help provide data on seasonal movements, year-round habitat use, home range sizes and survival.

The study is designed for three years, but the transmitters could last six to seven years.

Last updated: May 6, 2015