Paraphrasing the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b), in my opinion, ten measures of grace were given to the birds of Israel, nine were given to egrets, and just one to the rest of the bird world.
The beautiful Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and its surrounding countryside is the home of a multitude of animals, birds, fish and reptiles – but for me, the jewel in the crown, is certainly the Little Egret. And, living so close to the Kinneret, I am lucky enough to regularly observe these beautiful and graceful white birds in the heron family. They wade in the shallow waters at the edge of the lake on the lookout for fish. And master fishers they are – they patiently wait in the lake stalking their prey and with one quick swoop of the head, a fish is plucked from the water soon to be consumed whole.
Its snowy-white plumage and its long black legs with yellow feet, long neck and long thin black bill give the Little Egret a distinguished appearance. Handsome and regal as it is when it wades in the water, majestic it certainly is in flight as it soars over the lake, with slow but deliberate wing beats, searching for its next hunting ground.
The Little Egret is by no means the biggest of the heron family, but it doesn’t live up to (or even down to) its name, measuring in at about 60cm in length, weighing about half a kilo and with a wingspan of almost a meter. It is little, though, by comparison, being about half the length and weight of the Great White Egret.
With some birds it’s easy to tell the difference between male and female – but I find it difficult to distinguish between hegrets and shegrets. The male is slightly bigger making it the big Little Egret and the female is therefore the little Little Egret. And I suppose a young female is a little little Little Egret.
Not so far from the edge of the Kinneret cattle can be found grazing. One of our favorite haunts is the Switzerland Forest in the hills and mountains overlooking much of the Southwest coast of the lake – and there a herd of cattle attracts another sort of little egret, the Cattle Egret. Also a small white bird in the heron family, it spends much of its life stalking cattle. It feeds on insects particularly grasshoppers and crickets as well as lizards and even small fish. I’m always delighted to see them as they forage amongst the cattle, where their chance of a good meal significantly increases. I’m often rewarded with a glimpse of the egret walking or riding on the back of a cow which seems completely oblivious to its passenger. Of course, it is providing a good service to its host or hostess helping to rid it of fleas and other pests – a win-win scenario, though not so good for the fleas.
As you look at these photographs of egrets, I hope you can understand why, for me, they possess nine measures of grace.
Slideshow of Little Egrets with photography by Julian Alper and music by Miriam Alper