Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Near Threatened because despite its large range it occupies a restricted habitat and is patchily distributed. For this reason it is assumed to have a moderately small and declining global population.
Population estimates throughout its range are: 954-1,260 breeding pairs on the Pacific coast; 1,000 pairs at Green Island, Texas; 897 breeding pairs in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico (Palacios et. al. 2013); fewer than 200 pairs at Tamaulipas, Mexico; 50 pairs at Inagua, Bahamas; 50 pairs elsewhere in the Bahamas; 155 breeding pairs and up to 544 foraging individuals in Cuba (González et. al. 2016), up to 200 pairs in Florida, and up to c.5,000 resident individuals in Belize. This suggests a total of c.10,500-11,300 mature individuals with an unknown additional number in the Dominican Republic. Therefore it is best placed in the band 10,000-19,999 mature individuals, equivalent to 15,000-29,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 15,000-30,000 individuals.
Population trends are not well understood; certainly the species seems to be increasing in parts of its range where it is well protected and has safe nesting sites, but declines are reported at the majority of sites.
Egretta rufescens occurs in Baja California and south along the Pacific coast of Mexico, the southern coast of the USA, through the Caribbean islands and down the Central American coast to northern Colombia and Venezuela. Recent estimates suggest that the majority are found in Mexico and Texas, USA (C. Green in litt. 2016). Surveys in western Mexico identified 39 breeding sites including eighteen nesting sites in Baja California Sur, eight in Sinaloa, six in Baja California, five in Sonora, and only two in Chiapas. The largest colony in western Mexico supports 258 breeding pairs while the average colony size was 35 pairs. The population estimate for the west coast of Mexico was between 954 and 1,260 breeding pairs (Palacios and Amador-Silva 2008). Numbers have not been collated for the entire Caribbean, but the following figures have been compiled: 1,000 pairs at Green Island, Texas, <200 pairs at Tamaulipas, Mexico (Laguna Madre), 50 pairs at Inagua, Bahamas and 50 pairs elsewhere in the Bahamas, and up to 200 pairs in Florida (Palacios and Amador-Silva 2008, S. Melville in litt. 2008). A recent study estimated 155 breeding pairs at 13 sites in Cuba, mostly within the Sabana-Camagüey archipelago, plus up to 544 foraging individuals (González etl al. 2016). In the Dominican Republic it is considered a locally common breeding resident, and appears to be more common today than in the 1930s (R. Rodríguez-Mojica in litt. 2008); in Puerto Rico it is reportedly very rare (R. Rodríguez-Mojica in litt. 2008); Recent surveys in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico estimated 897 breeding pairs (Palacios et. al. 2013), demonstrating that there are a lot more birds than previously thought to occur in the region; and finally data from BirdLife International's World Biodiversity Database of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) suggests that there may also be important numbers in Belize with up to c.5,000 resident individuals estimated from three IBAs in the country. This suggests a total of c.10,500-11,300 mature individuals with an unknown additional number in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Population trends are not well understood; certainly the species seems to be increasing in parts of its range where it is well protected and has safe nesting sites, but declines are reported at the majority of sites.
The species frequents shallow coastal waters, salt-pans, open marine flats and shorelines; it is rarely recorded away from the coast. It breeds on islands and in mangroves. It feeds mainly on small fish, frogs, tadpoles and crustaceans, using a variety of feeding techniques. It will breed in almost all months of the year, with seasonal peaks that vary in timings across the range. Most breeding takes place along northern coastlines within its range, with non-breeding birds dispersing to the south in the Caribbean and along the Pacific coast.
Populations were heavily exploited for food in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, fluctuations occur at some colonies, apparently relating to predators which can cause rapid declines; recoveries have been observed following predator control. Threats to the species are not well understood, but it is likely to have declined in parts of its range owing to commercial development of the coastline.
Conservation Actions Underway
Nineteen of the 39 breeding sites identified on the Pacific coast of Mexico occur in protected areas (Palacios and Amador-Silva 2008). Ongoing studies are underway on the Caribbean coast of Mexico and the southern USA.
66-81 cm. 450 g. Polymorphic egret with dark and white phases, both of which vary. White morphs are separable from other egrets by their larger size (except E. alba), pink bill base and slate-grey legs. The two-tone bill and shaggy neck are distinctive. Dark morph birds are slate-grey with a red-brown head, neck and plumes. Juveniles are greyish brown and pale below with a largely black bill.
Text account compilers
Bird, J., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Sharpe, C J, Wheatley, H.
Palacios, E., Valdez, E., MacKinnon, B., Mitchell, A., Kasner, A., Green, C., Rodriguez, R., Bruzual, L., Kushlan, J., Melville, S.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Egretta rufescens. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 08/04/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 08/04/2020.