Rare Melanistic Cattle Egret, Bubulcus IBIS, FIRTS Time Recorded In Odisha

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Bhubaneswar: A single melanistic Cattle Egret [scientific name Bubulcus ibis] with prominent black colouration was seen on 1st September 2020, by Shri Nanda Kishore Bhujabal Vice Chairman Wild Orissa, at Tangi, district Khurda Odisha. Once again another similar melanistic Cattle Egret was seen at Tangi on the 21st September 2020. Though the 2 specimens were a little different, yet they both have unique ‘dark’ melanistic colourations on their feathers. This is the first record for Odisha of melanistic Cattle Egret. They were adult Cattle Egrets possessing breeding plumage on its back with buff plumes. Normal coloured Cattle Egret is white in colour with buff plumes in the breeding
season. The beak were yellow, and limbs seemed like those of a normally coloured Cattle Egret.
The birds which have been documented by Shri Nanda Kishore Bhujabal at Tangi, came across at first as a strange-looking small egret. Its plumages were dark, with some pale, with white areas on the primaries and a black throat; feathers on the crown and mantle were blackish. The bill was orange with a paler tip, while the inner part of the upper mandible showed a striking yellow coloration. The iris was yellow. The legs were dark greenish-grey, but with yellow around the intertarsal joints. From its size and proportions, as well as its feeding behaviour, the bird waseasily identified as an aberrant coloured Cattle Egret.
Cattle Egret have been documented on a very few occasions in the world, to have rare plumage colours which are different from their normal/regular colourations.
This documentation by Shri Nanda Kishore Bhujabal from Wild Orissa is significant because it is the first documentation of melanistic Cattle Egret in the state of Odisha. The melanistic bird had a very dark, almost black plumage on its head, neck, breast and dark plumage mottled with white on the underside of its body. The chestnut/buff coloured plumes of the Cattle Egret’ breeding  plumage were present, on crown, breast and back, just as in a ‘normal’ bird. The darker plumage  looked black at first, but after more careful observation they appeared to be dark grey, possibly with a brownish tinge. Staining was ruled out because the feathers seemed to be in excellent condition, dry and smooth. The wings (above and below), tail and back were white (apart from ‘normal’ orangish plumes of the breeding plumage) but mottled. The bill was not bright orange as in the other breeding birds of but yellowish, and similarly the legs were a fairly uniform yellowish green. The feet were probably the same colour as the legs.
A research undertaken by ‘Wild Orissa’ has revealed that a similar sighting of a melanistic Cattle Egret, was made in Yemen during 1986 by ornithologist S. Fairman. Also another similar specimenwas recorded in New Jersey, USA during 1987 by David Sibley. Similar reports of Melanistic Cattle  Egret have been reported from South Africa, Florida (USA) and Illinois (USA), Nigeria, India, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Barbados, Dominica, Florida, and California. P. J. Willoughby sighted a grey coloured Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis in November 1995 in Goa, India. Subsequently Singh spotted a melanistic Cattle Egret in Jharkhand state during the year 2013. During October 2017 a bluish coloured Cattle Egret was recorded in Guwahati by a ornithologist, following a cow. There  were no further reports from India, till this report this year by ‘Wild Orissa’.
‘Wild Orissa’ has been recording significant records of colour aberrations in birds from the stateof Odisha during the last 2 decades. Some of these findings from Odisha have been records for  India also. The documentation of a White Purple Swamphen during April 2019, in the Chilika waters, by a joint team of ‘Wild Orissa’ and Sri Sri Mahaveer Pakshi Suraksha Samiti was a world record. This team was led by Shri Nanda Kishore Bhujabal Vice Chairman ‘Wild Orissa’.
Further during the year 2015 for the first time Leucistic Black Tailed Godwit was recorded in the Chilika waters by a joint team of ‘Wild Orissa’ and Sri Sri Mahaveer Pakshi Suraksha Samiti ofMangalajodi. This team was once again led by Shri Nanda Kishore Bhujabal Vice Chairman ‘Wild Orissa’.
This finding on Cattle Egret will be shared with national and international research organizations, in order to ascertain as to whether the reason for colour aberrations in Cattle Egret are due to any  specific reasons in genetics or induced mutations

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