Monday, June 27, 2011

Sand Eels and Egrets

In the last couple of weeks there have been high numbers of Great Egret and Snowy Egret feeding in the mouth of the Housatonic River. We notice this regularly from our positions at the Coastal Center at Milford Point and the CAS-managed Stratford Point. There are always some birds present in June as they wander from breeding sites like Charles Island to feed. However, this year there have been days with well over 100 Great Egret and 75 Snowy Egret seen simultaneously with more flying in and out of the area.

So what makes this year special? Our best guess is the high number of sand eels. CAS Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull tells me that fishermen have been reporting large quantities of sand eels, especially in western Long Island Sound. Some have said it is more than they have ever seen. These sand eels provide food not only for egrets but also gulls, terns, and cormorants. There was a large group of sand eels right near the shore of Stratford Point last Thursday, and I took these photos while conducting a survey.

Look carefully at the next two photos - you can see these Great Egrets have sand eels in their bills.


Those birds were only a small fraction of the total number present that morning. Isn't it amazing that the number of birds we record on our surveys can be driven by typically unseen prey in the water?

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

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