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I took a trip to a riparian preserve near Phoenix last weekend, and saw a Great Egret for the first time!  However, I noticed something in its tail, which hung down into the water as it walked around to hunt.  See the second photo, below.  At first I thought it was long tail feathers, but I don't see any feathers like this when I look at other Great Egret photos online, so now I'm wondering if it was a reed or something.  Do Great Egrets stick things into their tails?  Is this normal, or unusual?  Any insight would be appreciated!

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Bonus picture: while I watched, the egret walked over to the shore and snatched a dragonfly off a reed:

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  • 5 months later...

I believe that is breeding plumage. It normally lies on top of the wings rather than under them and bunched together as in your shot. The birds can extend them out into the air around their bodies, making a kind of airy cage around them when courting (google "great egret courtship display). Also, the date is right for breeding plumage. In your image they appear to have gotten wet and bunched together. Sometimes other birds have a rather different use for them, as you can see ...

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