For some years now several of us have suspected that odd-looking Reef Egrets
occurring on Cocos (Keeling) Islands are Western Reef Egrets Ardea gularis.
See for instance Don Hadden's article in the December 2006 'Wingspan' Vol.
16 No. 4 p.37, where he surprisingly concluded they were hybrids between
Little and Western Reef Egrets. I think he probably meant Little and Eastern
Reef Egrets. John Darnell discussed the problem in some detail in the
Handbook of Western Australian Birds, Vol 2 Passerines, Appendix B, Birds
from Cocos-Keeling Islands, p. 488. Up to now most individuals have been
white or intermediate morph birds often with a sprinkling of black or grey.
During our (Colin Judkins, Grant Penrhyn & I) recent visit to Cocos, we saw
a classic dark morph bird leaving no doubt as to its identity. It was
identical to the picture of this species in Mullarney et al., the Collins
Bird Guide, The Most Complete Field Guide to the Birds of Britain & Europe,
complete with white chin & throat, nuchal plume, wholly yellow feet, pale
drooping bill with dark tip, and some white at the carpal. We have photos of
the bird on the ground and in flight!
The status of this taxon is disputed, some considering it a subspecies of
Little Egret but Monroe & Sibley 1993, 'A World Checklist of Birds', treats
it as a full species as do most modern authors.
The likely subspecies is schistacea which occurs along the coasts of the
northern Indian Ocean east to NW India. After breeding, some birds move
south down the western coast of the Indian subcontinent reaching the
Maldives and Lacadive Islands. On Cocos, they seem to prefer the land or
fresh water areas rather than the lagoon and shore frequented by Eastern
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