I have mentioned before how small herds of cattle are sometimes left to roam around our suburbs. This has become more prevalent since this area fell into the iron grip of a drought that has tortured gardeners, farmers, and wildlife of every sort. A bonus of having these cattle graze on unmown verges and on the grassy area between our street and the main road into town is that they attract Cattle Egrets.
There appears to be a symbiotic relationship between Cattle Egrets and grazing animals. We see them with the cattle here, and in the game reserves they follow in the wake of herds of buffalo, eland, springbuck and wildebeest.
In some parts of the country Cattle Egrets are commonly called Tick Birds. Unlike the Red-billed- and Yellow-billed Ox-peckers though, Cattle Egrets do not only pick ticks off the animals. Instead, they mostly forage for grasshoppers and other insects that are disturbed as the grazing animals move through the grass. The Ox-peckers, on the other hand, feed on ticks, flies, lice and worms that can be extracted from the fur of animals such as buffalo, rhinoceros, giraffe and impala by using a scissoring motion with their beaks.
The Cattle Egrets are social birds and so gather in fairly large flocks in the veld and – in our town – gather in a particular tree in the CBD to perch en masse at night. As you can imagine, this practice is not looked upon with favour by all residents.