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Photo by Tom Grey

Egrets of Shorebird Way in Mountain View

Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets both call the Mountain View Google Campus home. Every year, they return in spring to raise their young in the noisy cacophony of the Shorebird Way colony (or rookery). Great egrets usually arrive first, and the Snowy Egrets follow. From March to August, you can watch the entire breeding cycle unfold before your eyes.

 

Historically, this area was dominated by wetlands and willow groves. It has changed over the years, but generations of birds still use the trees lining the street for their breeding colony allowing us to enjoy nature at its best right here on the Google Campus.

 

This rookery is regionally important, hosting 20% or more of the Great Egret colonies that are monitored in the Bay Area. The number of Great Egret nests here has been decreasing in the past few years, while the Snowy Egret nests have been increasing. Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and other organizations help Google and the City of Mountain View steward the egrets at this site and others in the South Bay Area.

 

Snowy Egret by Tom Grey Great Egret by Tom Grey
Snowy Egret with yellow feet (left) and Great Egret with black feet (right). Photos © Tom Grey

 

How do you tell Great and Snowy Egrets apart?

You can easily identify each egret species by their feet! Great Egrets have black feet while Snowy Egrets have yellow feet. Also the Great Egret is taller – 3.3 ft vs. 2 ft for the Snowy Egret. During the breeding season the Great Egret's face turns neon green while the Snowy Egret's face turns red; they both grow long beautiful wispy plumes on their backs. Great egrets are regal. Snowy egrets are feisty.

 

Great Egret Facts

The elegant Great Egret is common in North America, and found throughout South America, Africa, and parts of Asia. It is a tall all-white heron with an impressive 5 ft wingspan. Males and females look alike and juveniles look like non-breeding adults. They fly slowly with their neck tucked back into a tight s-curve. The birds hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish and many other marine animals with a deadly jab of their sharp bill. Great Egrets also hunt rodents and large insects in open fields, undulating their long necks as they stalk their prey.

 

Snowy Egret Facts

The feisty Snowy Egret is a smaller all-white heron and their wingspan is just over 3 ft. They range over most of the United States and into most of South America. Males and females look alike and juveniles look like non-breeding adults. They hunt for fish, crustaceans, insects and small reptiles in shallow water, often running about and stamping their feet. They also fly slowly with their neck tucked back into a tight s-curve. Snowy Egrets sometimes mate with other heron species to produce hybrids.

 

Breeding Season

The breeding season for both egrets lasts from April to September. They nest in colonies in the tops of trees or shrubs often alongside other species. Both males and females participate in the incubation and care of chicks until they permanently leave the nest. Breeding starts with elaborate courtship displays by the male. The male also builds or renovates a large platform nest of sticks lined with twigs and grasses. The female then lays several light-blue eggs that are incubated for about 25 days. After hatching the chicks leave the nest in about 23 days and move about on nearby branches before fledging. Young egrets are aggressive towards one another in the nest, and stronger siblings often push their weaker kin out of the nest. Parents do not care for egrets that fall out of the nest (but our partners at Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley do!).

 

Snowy Egret by Tom Grey Great Egret by Tom Grey
Snowy Egret (left) and Great Egret (right) during breeding season. Photos © Tom Grey

 

What are crows doing here?

Crows hang out near the colony hoping to grab an unattended egg or nestling. This is a natural occurance.

 

Conservation

Both Snowy and Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their breeding plumes in the late nineteenth century. These beautiful feathers were used commercially to decorate women's hats and clothes. The decimation of the egret population inspired conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds in the United States. The Audubon Society grew out of this conservation movement in 1886 when a group of concerned bird-watchers made a stand against this use of feathers. Now the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects migratory birds in the United States with similar acts in Canada, Mexico and other countries.

 

Snowy Egret by Tom Grey Great Egret by Tom Grey
Snowy Egret (left) and Great Egret (right) adults feeding young. Photos © Tom Grey

 

What is Google doing to help?

To protect the egrets and people who like to watch them from the road, Google and the City of Mountain View close Shorebird Way to traffic after the egret chicks hatch. In addition, Google implements egret-safe rodent control methods (without poisons) and educates employees about the egrets and other natural treasures found on campus. Google also sponsors local groups that monitor the egret colony and provides information to the public and groups that collect, transport and care for young egrets that fall out of nests.

 

Birds in Distress

Please do not approach egrets on the ground. If you find a nestling on the ground or an injured bird, DO NOT PICK IT UP. Contact Google Security, file a GUTS ticket or contact Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA) about injured or very young birds with almost no feathers (408) 764-0344 during work hours or or (408) 866-2101 after hours.

 

Volunteer Opportunities

Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) has many opportunities for monitoring and stewarding this egret colony and for other local conservation and environmental education efforts. Please contact advocate@scvas.org if you want to help.

 

Donate to Help Birds in the Bay Area

Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) relies on donations from hundreds of individuals like you to support our many education and conservation efforts in our Bay Area. Each dollar that you donate joins with the dollars of your neighbors to improve your quality of life in Santa Clara County. SCVAS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, making all donations tax-deductible.