Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. The white color of great egrets absorbs less heat from the sun; darker birds heat up quicker. Being white helps keep this bird of the sunshine cool, but how does a great egret stay so white? It wades around all day in muddy water, yet never appears to have mud or stain on its feathers. Four factors come into play. The great egret, like most birds, has an oil gland at the base of the tail. It gets oil from this gland on the bill and wipes it on its feathers. The oil waterproofs the feathers, preventing them from absorbing the muddy water. The smooth texture of the feathers helps prevent caking of mud on them. A great egret also spends much time preening, cleaning, and rearranging its feathers. Herons and egrets have patches of crumbly feathers called 'powder downs'. The birds grab some of these in the bill and wipe them on their feathers. This coats the feathers with powder. The effect of these adaptations gives the birds a somewhat teflon-like coat that seems to repel dirt. While much preening is done with the bill, herons and egrets also have a comb-like claw on the middle toe of each foot, this built-in comb is used to preen and clean those beautiful feathers.'With the Wild Things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson.