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Disgusting mating sounds shatter the serenity at Heber Sand Dunes

April 09, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

HEBER BEACH DUNES — Gurgling, gobbling and rustling egrets swoop into a small grove of old eucalyptus trees near here to mate each evening as the sun sets.

If not for the disgusting sounds — much like the disgusting sounds made by humans when they get frisky — the setting would be romantic.

In fact, sometimes, when the sun is a certain shade of orange and a cooling evening breeze carries a plaintive lover's call, it seems as if Barry White is being piped into the eaves just for those birds.


The end result of spring fever and mood-enhancing climes? Feathers dot the ground surrounding the tree each morning, the aviary equivalent of ruffled sheets.

A Web site posted by the California Fish & Game explained just what's going on with these amorous birds (in more technical terms): "Egrets often feed separately but usually return to roost at night in trees with other egrets."

In the case of the old eucalyptus trees near the Heber Beach Dunes, "other egrets" means hundreds.

"In early spring they pair up for breeding and nests of sticks, stems and marsh plants are built in large trees near water."

"Nests in the rookery are built between 10 and 80 feet off the ground and are often sheltered from prevailing winds. A single clutch of three to five eggs is laid between March and July. Incubation lasts 26 days, after which downy, semi-altricial young are born. Age at first flight is probably 5 to 6 weeks, but there is no information on ages at independence or age at first breeding."

What the Department of Fish and Game doesn't mention: After flying away for a few years, the birds often run up credit card debt and come flying back to the nests with pierced beaks and dyed tufts of feathers.

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