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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Bird    Species Name:
Ardea alba

Common Name:
Great Egret


Fort Atkinson, Nebraska   August 2, 1804

Lewis' begins birding

Other than a passing reference to seeing Carolina parakeets, Lewis had not yet described any birds prior to August 1804 (present day Nebraska).  That month he wrote about three white birds--the great egret, white pelican, and least tern.  His description of the great egret is nothing less than a scientist fastidiously recording measurements and observations, even to the point of including a table for some data.  Lewis seemed to have a list of characteristics to describe the birds already formed in his head, which he then applied to each specimen. 

He could have collected the specimens, noted their location, and described them back in Washington.  Rather, he began what could have become one of the great scientific field journals in his era.  Regrettably, Lewis was neither consistent in the art of describing specimens, or a disciplined journal writer.  His journals formed a patchwork of notes on the natural history, some entries wonderfully descriptive, and others unexplainably inattentive to detail.

Journal Entries:

Capt. Lewis, August 2, 1804--This day one of our Hunters brought me a white Heron. this bird as [is] an inhabitant of ponds and ...  more>>

References Linné, Carl von, Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, Cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis, ed. 10, 2 vols, Holmiae: impensis direct. Laurentii Salvii, 1758

See following caption
great egret tail and long plumes.

See following caption
The long toes of the great egret are adapted to wading. In contrast to the snowy egret's yellow feet, the great egret has black feet.

See following caption
great egret

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