Great Egret stranded in St. John's by Fiona dies in local marsh

This great egret has landed in St. John's, likely brought here by the winds of post-tropical storm Fiona. (Submitted by Geoff Smith - image credit)
This great egret has landed in St. John's, likely brought here by the winds of post-tropical storm Fiona. (Submitted by Geoff Smith - image credit)
Submitted by Geoff Smith
Submitted by Geoff Smith

A bird usually seen around Florida and the Gulf Coast that was detoured to St. John's — likely by the winds of post-tropical storm Fiona — has likely died.

The great egret should usually be around Mexico by now, according to nature photographer and bird enthusiast Geoff Smith, but instead it landed in Lundrigan Marsh in the White Hills area of St. John's. Another egret has been located in Bay Roberts, according to Smith, who was able to capture a photo of the bird in St. John's.

"This little guy, or not so little guy, probably got blown up here with Hurricane Fiona," Smith said Tuesday.

"This bird, you know you might get the occasional one in southwestern Ontario or Atlantic Canada, but pretty rare in Newfoundland. That being said, you know, I've probably seen half a dozen or more in the last four or five years blown in on storms."

After visiting Lundrigan Marsh on Thursday to take another photo, Smith said he returned from a hike to see no sign of the egret. That was until he looked up, and saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree with white feathers around it's claws.

Smith says he believes the egret fell prey to the eagle.

"It happened to pick the wetlands that has probably the highest density of bald eagles in the entire province to hang out in. So, yeah," he said.

"There's not very many birds of that size that have all white feathers. So if it was a great black-backed gull or a herring gull, you know, you'd see some grey or black plumage in there with it. So I can't really think of anything else it might be."

Egrets can grow over three feet tall with a six-foot wingspan, he said, but the white feathered birds are often very graceful — he called the birds "a giant ballerina."

They can often be seen hunting with their long bills, primarily going after fish and amphibians.

WATCH | Geoff Smith tells the CBC's Anthony Germain how a great egret went wildly off course:

"They have this very sharp bill that they can use like a spear. They can actually spear a frog right through its body, flip it up and swallow it down. It's pretty remarkable," said Smith.

Smith said the bird's chances of survival were low as it wasn't adapted to the cooler climate of St. John's. In short, Smith says the bird's death could have been worse.

"It could have started to freeze to death and then been slowly picked at by crows for it's demise."

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