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Cattle Egret - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Western Cattle Egret)
Complete breeding plumage, including short lived changes in bill and leg colors in high breeding
Subspecies B. i. coromandus; in a Mixed Heronry
Photo © by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India, 23 July 2015

Includes: Eastern Cattle Egret, Western Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis

Ardea ibis


Winter plumaged Cattle Egret landing on a steer
Photo © by HelenB
Location: Southeast Texas, USA, 12 December 2004

Length 46–56 cm (18-22 in), wingspan about 90-96 cm (nominate race).
The Cattle Egret has a compact build with white plumage, yellow bill, and mostly yellow legs. One characteristic feature is the short stubby bill with obvious feathering extending out along the lower mandible to the mid point.

When breeding, buff plumes develop on the crown and lower back, and parts of the breast also develop buff tones (or in some birds, more rusty-brown). In high breeding, bill and legs become reddish; however, this is held much shorter than the plumage.

Females in winter plumage lack extended throat feathers seen in the male, but otherwise, the sexes are similar.

Juvenile birds have a greyish-black wash to bill and legs.

Similar Species

Juvenile birds with mostly dark bill can be confused with immature Little Blue Heron. Adults in non-breeding plumage may be confused with the much larger white morph of the Great Blue Heron or with the Great Egret. However Cattle Egret is much smaller and more compact. Cattle Egrets may also be confused with Intermediate Egret (which see).


Subspecies coromandus
Photo © by mohan matang
Kutch, Gujara, India, July 2010

Cattle egret is found almost around the globe in tropical, subtropical, and warmer temperate areas.
Occurs widely in sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Sudan and south to South Africa including Madagascar and the Seychelles. Also breeds in north-west Africa, Iberia and parts of southern France.

Has recently has begun breeding in the Canary Islands, and in western, central and northern France, Belgium, on Sardinia and around the eastern Mediterranean in Turkey, the Middle East and Egypt. Small numbers breed in the Volga Delta of Russia.

In Asia breeds throughout the Indian Subcontinent east to China and southern Japan and south to Indonesia, New Guinea and throughout Australia except the most arid interior.

Also widespread in the Americas. In North America occurs from south-east Canada south to Florida and the Gulf Coast and in the west breeds in California and Utah and regularly occurs north to British Columbia during post-breeding dispersal.

Found throughout Mexico, Central America and the West Indies and in South America extends south to northern Argentina. Recorded as a vagrant in most European countries where not regular, north to Iceland, Scandinavia and Poland, and also in the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands but some reports may involve escapes. British records, (c.120), widely scattered from Sicilly north to Shetland and throughout the year. Has bred in the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands and the first breeding for the Balearic Islands was recorded on Mallorca in 1997.

A native of Africa and Asia, the Cattle Egret found its own way to the Americas, arriving in the northeast of South America in 1877. It first arrived the USA in 1941 and nesting was noted in 1953. During the next 50 years its population expanded, making it one of the most numerous North American herons.


Some resources place this species in genus Ardea

Subspecies ibis is sometimes split as "Western Cattle Egret", B. ibis; subspecies coromandus may be elevated as "Eastern Cattle Egret", B. coromandus.


Subspecies coromandus
Photo © by Ken Doy
Lake Galletly Gatton Campus, Queensland, 10 November 2017

Clements recognises the following subspecies [1]:

B. i. seychellarum: of the Seychelles supposedly intermediate between nominate and coromandus is no longer recognized. It is now merged with the nominate subspecies [1].


Freshwater margins and open grasslands. Often associates with cattle and other livestock; and also wild ungulates, frequently close to human habitation. Breeds colonially in trees, usually close to water but often seen far from water at other seasons.



Nominate subspecies in breeding plumage
Photo © by Fab
South Florida, USA, 17 August 2003

The Cattle Egret’s feeding grounds are usually under 20km from roost site. Typically hunts by walking steadily and stabbing at prey. It feeds on insects, especially grasshoppers, locusts and beetles.


Colonial nester, usually with other waterbirds. Nest are built from collected or stolen (from other nests) dry sticks, weed stems and reeds; occasionally lined with grass.


Many populations are dispersive and undergo rather random movements, while others are more strongly migratory.


Cattle Egret voice clip


Click images to see larger version


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Beaman, M., S. Madge, K.M. Olsen. 1998. Fuglene i Europa, Nordafrika og Mellemøsten. Copenhagen, Denmark: Gads Forlag, ISBN 87-12-02276-4
  3. Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/categr
  4. Martínez-Vilalta, A., Motis, A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/52697 on 29 June 2019).
  5. Telfair II, Raymond C.. (2006). Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/categr
  6. Hancock, J. & J.Kushlan. 1984. The Herons Handbook. Harper & Row, New York.
  7. Pratt, H.D., Bruner, P., and Berrett, D.G. (1987) A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press.
  8. Pyle, R.L., and P. Pyle. 2017. The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status. B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI, U.S.A. Version 2 (1 January 2017) http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/birds/rlp-monograph/

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