Lonesome Egret, by Roy Bedichek

The attraction of beast for beast within a given species is still another matter, and one which more readily commands human understanding and sympathy. Being gregarious ourselves, we actually experience the same gravitational tug that holds an individual within the flock, herd or other group of his kind….

So it was with a snowy egret which spent the night in a tree among the white leghorn chickens of a coastal farm not so long ago. It was just after sundown when the farmer happened to notice a white bird sailing far above in the clear sky. He came lower in downward spirals until he was circling the tree in which the white leghorns were just going to roost. Alighting on one of the topmost branches he carefully folded his wings, adjusted his plumes, and stretched out his long neck, peering down suspiciously at the company he had chosen for the night. He shifted his position several times, but finally settled down on his stilts, heronwise, neck folded in sleeping posture.

“Next morning,” said the big Norwegian farmer to me, apparently delighted to find someone interested in the occurrence, “the chickens flew down to the ground and the white bird flew up again into the sky.”

This incident has stayed in my memory for months. I sometimes resort to it in bed when I can’t go to sleep. The vision of that bird, the beauty of whose plumes fifty years ago spread a fierce rivalry among all the best-dressed women of the world – the picture of this, the most delicate and lovely of all the egrets, sailing down out of the blue sky to spend the night in a tree with dung-scratching fowls of the farmyard, and, come down, taking off again – really, the details of this evidence of a yearning for his kind are so quieting, the folding of the egret’s wings is so suggestive, and the whole idyl is so clothed in sedative colors, white and blue, that I usually lose consciousness just as the bird disappears into the depths of the clear morning sky. I recommend it to others troubled with insomnia.

The bird was lonesome.

What means this roaming with a hungry heart? …an egret descending to consort for the night with earth-bound creatures because they happened to remind him of his own kind – mere white spots in a tree, they must first have appeared, but suggestive of the rookery for which he was longing, as he saw from his great altitude the fast-approaching shadow of the night.

From: Adventures With a Texas Naturalist
Copyright (c) 1947, 1961, renewed 1989. Courtesy of the University of Texas Press.