LOCAL MASK ORDER RESCINDED Read More
Cattle Egret by Charlie Morey

Egret, Cattle

Share:

Description

Cattle egrets are medium-sized birds, with mostly white plumage. During breeding season, adults of some subspecies grow yellowish-orange feathers on their back, breast, and head. Briefly during breeding season, the eyes, bill, and legs will turn bright red. These egrets have a stocky, stubby stature and a thick neck that can be quickly launched forward to grab prey with their yellow beak. Males may be slightly larger and have slightly longer breeding plumes, but otherwise there is no sexual dimorphism in this species. Juveniles have blackish legs and beaks that will slowly turn yellow as they mature. Their name comes from their tendency to follow around cattle, eating the insects that these grazers stir up.

Cover photo: Adult cattle egret by Charlie Morey

Classification

Overview
The cattle egret is a bird in the Pelecaniformes order. This order contains medium to large waterbirds found all around the world, including pelicans, as well as ibises, spoonbills, hamerkops, herons, egrets, and more.
Class
Aves
Order
Pelecaniformes
Family
Ardeidae
Genus
Bubulcus
Species
B. ibis

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Least Concern
Lifespan
up to 23 years old
Height
1.5 – 1.8 ft (46 – 56 cm)
Weight
0.75 – 0.86 lbs (340 – 390 g)
Wingspan
2.9 – 3.1 ft (88 – 96 cm)

The IUCN Red List describes the cattle egret as a species of Least Concern, meaning conservationists around the world are not currently worried about the continuation of this species. A 2015 report estimated a global population of between 4 million and 9.85 million individuals, with an increasing trend. Due to the cattle egret’s positive relationship with large grazing herbivores, including domestic livestock, this species has benefitted greatly from the spread of human agriculture throughout the world.

Social Life
Cattle egrets are social birds, and usually are found in loose flocks of a few dozen birds. They may gather in the hundreds or even thousands in areas where food is plentiful.

These birds also have a symbiotic social relationship with large grazing herbivores. They will follow elephants, rhinos, buffalo, antelope, cattle, and other grazers around, and eat the insects that are disturbed by these larger animals. This relationship may be slightly mutualistic, where both parties benefit, in that the cattle egret may see and react to a predator before the grazer, alerting that grazer of potential danger. However, this is likely a largely commensalistic relationship, in which the cattle egret benefits greatly while the grazer is unaffected by the egret’s presence.

Habitat and Range
Cattle egrets prefer open space—grasslands, freshwater wetlands, meadows, and farmland. They are very rare in thickly forested areas and coastal habitats. They are the least aquatic bird in the heron family, and can stay for long periods of time in dry habitat far from water sources.

Cattle egrets were originally native to Africa, areas around the Mediterranean, and parts of Asia. They allegedly naturally expanded to the Americas, flying across the Atlantic and arriving in northern South America in 1877. They then spread to southern North America by 1941, nesting by 1953. They are now found on all continents except Antarctica.

Diet
Cattle egrets are mostly carnivorous generalists, feeding on a wide variety of insects, crustaceans, mollusks, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents. They will occasionally eat vegetable matter as well. Part of the success of cattle egrets is likely due to their willingness to react to fantastic feeding opportunities. They are well known for following large grazing herbivores and eating insects that these grazers kick up, but have also been observed using the same tactic on tractors, as well as eating insects that are fleeing from the advance of a fire.

Predators
Cattle egrets are fairly small birds found in a massive range of habitats across every continent besides Antarctica, so it is likely that a huge list of predators have preyed upon a cattle egret at one point or another.

Reproduction
Sexual Maturity: ~2 years
Breeding & Nesting Season: Year-round in the tropics. April and May in North America.
Incubation: 22 – 26 days
Clutch Size: Usually 2 – 5, but can be 1 – 9

Information

Description

Cattle egrets are medium-sized birds, with mostly white plumage. During breeding season, adults of some subspecies grow yellowish-orange feathers on their back, breast, and head. Briefly during breeding season, the eyes, bill, and legs will turn bright red. These egrets have a stocky, stubby stature and a thick neck that can be quickly launched forward to grab prey with their yellow beak. Males may be slightly larger and have slightly longer breeding plumes, but otherwise there is no sexual dimorphism in this species. Juveniles have blackish legs and beaks that will slowly turn yellow as they mature. Their name comes from their tendency to follow around cattle, eating the insects that these grazers stir up.

Cover photo: Adult cattle egret by Charlie Morey

Classification

Overview
The cattle egret is a bird in the Pelecaniformes order. This order contains medium to large waterbirds found all around the world, including pelicans, as well as ibises, spoonbills, hamerkops, herons, egrets, and more.
Class
Aves
Order
Pelecaniformes
Family
Ardeidae
Genus
Bubulcus
Species
B. ibis

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Least Concern
Lifespan
up to 23 years old
Height
1.5 – 1.8 ft (46 – 56 cm)
Weight
0.75 – 0.86 lbs (340 – 390 g)
Wingspan
2.9 – 3.1 ft (88 – 96 cm)

The IUCN Red List describes the cattle egret as a species of Least Concern, meaning conservationists around the world are not currently worried about the continuation of this species. A 2015 report estimated a global population of between 4 million and 9.85 million individuals, with an increasing trend. Due to the cattle egret’s positive relationship with large grazing herbivores, including domestic livestock, this species has benefitted greatly from the spread of human agriculture throughout the world.

Social Life
Cattle egrets are social birds, and usually are found in loose flocks of a few dozen birds. They may gather in the hundreds or even thousands in areas where food is plentiful.

These birds also have a symbiotic social relationship with large grazing herbivores. They will follow elephants, rhinos, buffalo, antelope, cattle, and other grazers around, and eat the insects that are disturbed by these larger animals. This relationship may be slightly mutualistic, where both parties benefit, in that the cattle egret may see and react to a predator before the grazer, alerting that grazer of potential danger. However, this is likely a largely commensalistic relationship, in which the cattle egret benefits greatly while the grazer is unaffected by the egret’s presence.

Habitat and Range
Cattle egrets prefer open space—grasslands, freshwater wetlands, meadows, and farmland. They are very rare in thickly forested areas and coastal habitats. They are the least aquatic bird in the heron family, and can stay for long periods of time in dry habitat far from water sources.

Cattle egrets were originally native to Africa, areas around the Mediterranean, and parts of Asia. They allegedly naturally expanded to the Americas, flying across the Atlantic and arriving in northern South America in 1877. They then spread to southern North America by 1941, nesting by 1953. They are now found on all continents except Antarctica.

Diet
Cattle egrets are mostly carnivorous generalists, feeding on a wide variety of insects, crustaceans, mollusks, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents. They will occasionally eat vegetable matter as well. Part of the success of cattle egrets is likely due to their willingness to react to fantastic feeding opportunities. They are well known for following large grazing herbivores and eating insects that these grazers kick up, but have also been observed using the same tactic on tractors, as well as eating insects that are fleeing from the advance of a fire.

Predators
Cattle egrets are fairly small birds found in a massive range of habitats across every continent besides Antarctica, so it is likely that a huge list of predators have preyed upon a cattle egret at one point or another.

Reproduction
Sexual Maturity: ~2 years
Breeding & Nesting Season: Year-round in the tropics. April and May in North America.
Incubation: 22 – 26 days
Clutch Size: Usually 2 – 5, but can be 1 – 9

adult cattle egret

Adult cattle egret by Mark Pressler