Cabin Fever, Cattle Egrets, and Pasture-land Partnerships | The Institute for Creation Research
Cabin Fever, Cattle Egrets, and Pasture-land Partnerships
Nowadays, many folks experience “cabin fever,” but are banned from ordinary travel and social activities.1 However, some get out of the house—yet stay home—by investing time and labor outdoors, doing yardwork and gardening.

For many Americans, it is enough of a challenge at this time of year to trim tree branches, remove weeds (hopefully by the roots), add weed-and-feed to lawn grass, mow the grass, and weed-whack wherever needed. Since tending to one’s own yardwork is a permissible outdoor activity, many are using their extra time at home to maintain their lawns.

Yet, in other places where large grassy areas abound—such as ranchlands of America’s Great Plains—wild grasses constitute “all-you-can-eat” pastures for domestic cattle.2 And where you find cattle herds and pastures, you often also find their small white heron-like neighbor Bubulcus ibis, the cattle egret.3 Actually, providential partnering between grass-munching bovines and cattle egrets is an example of neighborly mutualism.

Being a good neighbor is a good standard to live by. Good neighbors help one another. In fact, as the New Testament indicates, it’s the biblical norm for how to treat one’s neighbors.4

To some extent, this type of win-win situation often occurs with cattle egrets over most of the world. They ecologically partner with domesticated bovines (cattle) and other large mammal herbivores such as bison, water buffalo, bison, horses, zebras, donkeys, camels, giraffes, antelope, rhinoceroses, etc.

In short, large mammals graze in tall grasses where bothersome insects (like grasshoppers and crickets) and parasitic ticks abound, stirring up the bugs wherever they walk. As the bugs move, reactively, their own motions betray them as moving targets—and often as fast-food—for the cattle egrets who “chaperone” the pasturing cattle.5 Likewise, cattle egrets are not shy about perching atop cattle to eat whatever insects, ticks, or insect larvae may be trespassing on beleaguered bovine bodies.5

The benefit to the birds is obvious—convenient meals, either on the bovine skin or in the stirred grasses that bovine feet brush against, causing bugs to show themselves as moving targets. The egrets just need to watch out for the bovine hooves.

The cattle benefit as well. They have no hands to dislodge the pestering bugs (many of which are noxious parasites) off their backs or to shoo away bugs that initially flit about near their feet and might soon land on the bovine’s legs or back.

The bugs really bug the bovines! So, the insectivorous habits of the bug-munching birds are a welcome relief, providing blessing to the cattle—assuming egrets live nearby.

Actually, the cattle egret is an African emigrant. Cattle egrets migrated from Africa to South America more than a century ago.5,6 After migrating northward more than 70 years ago, cattle egrets quickly colonized the southern regions of North America, and then expand their ranges further north.5,6 In some parts of America, they are established as seasonal migrants. In other parts, they reside year-round.3

And they are easy to recognize, especially during breeding season. Although the plumage of these egrets is mostly white, accented by yellow bills and yellow legs, during breeding season these egrets have golden “mustard” markings (resembling buff-colored blotches) on their breasts, backs, and crowns. The breeding season begins about around April and lasts until November.3

So, if you live near a pasture where cows are grazing, look at the grass near the cattle’s hooves. You might see a few cattle egrets satisfying their hunger and being a good neighbor.

This helpful association exhibits mutualistic neighborliness, not cutthroat competition. Thus, this mutually beneficial pasture-land partnership clashes with the Darwin’s overly pessimistic portrayal of nature as dominated by “kill-or-be-killed” selfishness.7

So, do the cattle egrets have a lesson for us?

Opportunities abound to be helpful to someone who is (or who is like) a neighbor. In disruptive times—as America eagerly anticipates returning to post-coronavirus normal—it’s good to be reminded that neighborly helpfulness is actually a blessing to both the helpful giver and the recipient.8

References
1. Johnson, J. J. S. When Travel is Restricted, Be Honest and Trust God. Creation Science Update. Posted on ICR.org April 4, 2020, accessed April 7, 2020. 
2. Johnson, J. J. S. 2017. Dung Beetles: Promoters of Prairie Preservation. Acts & Facts. 46(1):21.
3. Peterson, R. T. 1980. Peterson Field Guides: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, Volume 1. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, pages 102-103, and Map # 94.
4. Romans 13:9.
5. Staff writer. 2020. All About Birds: Cattle Egret. The Cornell Lab. Posted on allaboutbirds.org, accessed April 7, 2020.
6. Alerstam, T. 1993. Bird Migration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 45.
7. Neighborly “mutual aid” is actually quite common, ecologically speaking, even in this fallen world. Johnson, J. J. S. 2018. Grand Canyon Neighbors: Pines, Truffles, and Squirrels. Acts & Facts. 47(10): 21.
8. Acts 20:35.

*Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.
The Latest
NEWS
'Prehistoric' Paddlefish?
Evolutionists consider the freshwater paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) of the class Actinopterygii to be a prehistoric creature, a primitive bony fish “50...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Kids: Earth
by Christy Hardy and Susan Windsor* You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation...

ACTS & FACTS
To the End of the Earth
The book of Acts recounts the apostles’ journeys across the Roman Empire from Jerusalem and Judea “to the end of the earth,” preaching...

APOLOGETICS
Lightning, Soil Bacteria, and God’s Providence
Nitrogen is vital for human survival, yet few appreciate how lightning and soil bacteria contribute to Earth’s nitrogen cycle. That Earth’s...

ACTS & FACTS
The Bobtail Squid's Living Cloaking Device
Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) live among the sand flats and sea plants of the Hawaiian archipelago. Along with other bobtail squid, these...

ACTS & FACTS
Seeing Distant Starlight in a Young Universe
Many see distant starlight as an unanswerable objection to recent creation. Both creationist and evolutionist astronomers agree that distant galaxies...

ACTS & FACTS
Yellowstone National Park, Part 2: Canyons and Catastrophe
by Tim Clarey, Ph.D., and Brian Thomas, Ph.D.* About three million visitors tour Yellowstone National Park’s 3,440 square miles each year.1...

ACTS & FACTS
How Did the Bat Get Its Wings?
Where did bats come from? Evolutionists presuppose that some kind of rodent received just the right mutations to over “a few million years”...

ACTS & FACTS
Biblical Insights into Today’s Violent Mob Mentality
Some scenes from the evening news get etched into our memories. I recall seeing a college professor step outside his building and become suddenly surrounded...

CREATION PODCAST
Are Dinosaurs in the Bible? | The Creation Podcast: Episode 26
If the Bible is true, wouldn't it mention dinosaurs? If God made dinosaurs, when did He make them? Did they live with humans? What ultimately happened...