- Physical Description: The great egret is a long-necked and long-legged bird with white plumage. The bill is yellow, and the legs black. It measures 35 to 40 inches long, with a wing-span of about 55 inches and a weight of about 2 pounds.
- Geographic Distribution: The great egret is found from southern Canada down through the United States and South America, as well as in Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia. Partially migratory, northern birds will move southward during the cooler times of the year
- Environment: The egret lives in wetlands such as marshes and swamps, in both salt and freshwater, and along rivers and ponds. It is comfortable in close contact with human civilization.
Myths, Folklore, and Cultural Associations
Formally called aigettes (“little herons”), these stately birds were once in great demand by the millinery trade for their feathers. As such, the egret is now the symbol of the National Audubon Society, whose tenets include protecting birds from being killed to harvest their feathers.
To the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, an egret is a symbol of the ultimate in rarity and beauty. To see one is a great blessing, as egrets are rare in New Zealand.
Folklore shows egrets as being loyal and devoted parents, who refuse to leave their young in the nest.
Omens and Divinatory Meaning
An egret conveys a message of serenity and beauty. A noble bird, it reminds us to stand tall and to be self-possessed.
The Maori perception of the egret as a thing of rarity is also to be considered. Every moment of a day is sacred and beautiful in some way. Are you missing that? Are you so buried in work or daily cares that you’re forgetting to lift your head and look around you, to soak in the beauty that abides in this stressful, chaotic world?
Associated energies: Stability, beauty
Associated season: Summer
Element associations: Air, water, earth
Color association: White
REFERENCE: Birds, a Spiritual Field Guide, Explore the Symbology & Significance of These Divine Winged Messengers by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
After watching Egret behavior for a while, I was shocked at some of the behavior I witnessed. The adult egrets have so much patience with their chicks who keep trying to poke their eyes out. The chicks are supremely hungry and if they realize there isn’t enough food, the older stronger chicks will bully and maul the younger weaker siblings making them more susceptible to predators like alligators just so that they can get more food.
I’m just imagining an anthropomorphized version of Lord of the Flies! The lesson learned? A scarcity mindset can lead you to make different decisions than you would if you felt like there were abundant opportunities. Dr. Shahram Heshmat describes in more detail in his article, “How does being poor change the way we feel and think?“
“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”― William Golding, Lord of the Flies
On another side note: I found more Egret photos from the Audubon Society. The Audubon Society protects the Egrets since many people who killed them for their feathers. Smithsonian Museum shares a story about the deadly feather trade. I’ve never seen one in person, though I’ve seen a few bloggers have taken pictures of beautiful egrets.