By the late 19th century, the country’s snowy egret population was nearly decimated by plume hunters selling their feathers to milliners for ladies’ hats. On Avery Island, Louisiana, Edward McIllhenny—both an heir to the Tabasco sauce fortune and a passionate conservationist—felt compelled to help the dwindling population in the place his family called home. In 1895, “Mr. Ned,” as he was known, acquired a small number of egrets and created a refuge within his estate gardens. That fall, he released the birds to migrate south for the winter, hoping they would return in spring. They did—along with mates—and by 1911, nearly 100,000 egrets had made “Bird City” their summer nesting place. Mr. Ned’s legacy continues nearly 130 years later, with Bird City surrounded by the 170-acre Jungle Gardens, open to the public since 1935. Every winter, the staff places dried bamboo on elevated platforms to prepare fresh nesting sites for the early March arrival of thousands of water birds. At summer’s end, when their young are able to fly, the birds again head south. But even when the egrets are not in residence, visitors to the year-round preserve and botanical garden can see a host of other wading birds, including great blue herons, white ibises, and roseate spoonbills.
This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of Southbound.