Edith the Juvenile Great Egret has just finished rooting about in the mud, and yet…
She still looks white as a glass of whole milk. How?
Quite honestly, I don’t know the entire answer, but I do know Egrets, like their cousins the Herons, have special plumes on their breast and thighs called powder feathers.
These are so brittle, they fragment into dust and attract dirt, acting like a sort of organic dry shampoo. The bird then shrugs off the dust and presto—she’s white again!
Plus, look at Edith’s toes. See how long the middle one extends? This is partly because it terminates with a saw-toothed nail called a grooming claw.
Watch a Great or Snow Egret closely, and you’ll see it continually drags that claw along its feathers, combing out dirt, mud and clumps of its own fragmented feather-powder, very much like your pet cat preens with its jagged tongue.
All well and good, but still —I shot these photos of Edith seconds after she finished feeding in the muddy ditch below her feet. How on earth did she get so white in time for her closeup?
Double-tap any photo below to enlarge it: