Great Egret Tracking at John Heinz NWR


Endangered species just minutes from downtown Philadelphia

by Bianca Perez

Great Egrets are a common sight right now at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, PA. We are America’s First Urban Refuge which means that we are not in a far-away area secluded in the wilderness, but are actually 993 acres of fresh water tidal marsh right next to the Philadelphia airport and 15 minutes away from Philadelphia’s city center. We are a proud stop-over habitat for many migratory shorebirds and waterfowl including this Great Egret a visiting biologist spent three days attempting to catch.

Great Egrets are a Pennsylvania state listed endangered species so any information about their migration patterns is helpful to the population.  For some background about them, Great Egrets are wading birds which mean they like to be in shallow water where they can watch their prey (usually small fish, crayfish or frogs) swim by then stab it with their sharp bills with quick speed. This particular bird was a yearling captured using minnows and leg traps. The minnows were set in a large pan in the shallow water and padded leg traps were placed around it.  The leg trap was activated by a weight trigger and once snapped, kept the bird safely in place until it was removed by the biologists.

Once the bird was caught, the fun began! A bag was placed over the bird’s head to keep it calm. This was my first time being up close to one of these birds so I was very excited to get the chance to help out. I was asked to gently hold the bird’s neck out of the way while they set up the solar-powered tracker that would record the bird’s migration. The tracker sits on the bird’s back and has straps that sit under its wings like a backpack. Once that was done, we took measurements and blood which would later be used to determine the sex. After we took all of the data in the field that we could, the bird was released. I was so excited to have the opportunity to be that close to one of the wild birds in our Refuge and to know that we would get data from this young bird for a very long time.