The Egret and the Boatman

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“I observed this interesting behaviour of some egrets, a number of times, while in Borneo. An egret, often the Great Egret (Ardea alba modesta) as in this picture, would perch in a small boat, looking expectantly at the boatman for a feed.

EgretGr-boatman [AmarSngh]jpg 2

“I asked around and a number of residents in the area said this was a fairly common behaviour. They said the fisherman (boatman) would give the birds their ‘unusable’ small fish caught. If you look carefully at this image, you will notice a long fish already caught, right in front of the Great Egret. It did not make any attempt to reach for it and only ate what was given to it.

“An interesting ‘symbiotic’ relationship (symbiosis from Greek “living together”, “is any type of a close and long-term biological interaction between two different species” Wikipedia 2017).

EgretGr-boatman [AmarSngh]jpg 1

“The interesting question is what does the boat man get out of it? Silent companionship while performing an arduous task? Or perhaps the presence of one large bird in the boat keeps away other birds that may flap around the boat disturbing or impairing the fishing process? I am certain this behaviour is mirrored in many other regions.

“An old print image (drawing) entitled “A fisherman and an egret” by Aime Humbert in 1874 shows a Japanese fisherman with a large Egret standing by expectantly (see: HERE)

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
26-27th March 2017

Location: Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Habitat: Coastal region & river mouths in the city

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