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Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis

Length: 20 inches Wingspan: 36 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Stocky build, smaller than other white egrets, yellow  bill is shorter than other egrets.

Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibisCattle Egrets are originally native to Africa and the Mediterranean coasts of western Europe.  They began to colonize parts of South America in the 1970's, and were first seen in the United States when breeding populations were established in Florida in the early 1940's.  Cattle Egrets have since expanding their range to cover much of the southern U.S., and scattered locations throughout much of the northern U.S.  Cattle Egrets are unlike other herons and egrets in that they generally feed in upland areas.  They often associating with cattle or other livestock, following the animals (or tractors or other farm equipment) and feeding on any insects that are disturbed.  Cattle Egrets are often found in mixed breeding colonies with other egrets and herons.

Habitat: Can be found in nearly any kind of open country.  Breeds in trees or large shrubs, sometimes associating with other egrets and herons.

Diet: Primarily insects.  Also frogs, crustaceans, earthworms, snakes, eggs and young birds, and fish.

Behavior: Forages in a variety of habitats, but is found in dry, upland habitats much more often than most herons and egrets.  Cattle egrets are often found in upland pastures and fields in search of insects.

Nesting: June and July. The next is built on the top branches of a tree or a shrub near water, and is constructed of sticks, with larger sticks supporting the structure and smaller sticks and twigs at the top. Grasses and other vegetative material are sometimes used to line the nest. Both the male and female constructs the nest.  Between two and seven eggs are laid, with incubation lasting from 3 to 4 weeks. The young fledge from the nest after about 3 weeks.

Song: Some croaks and grunts, but generally silent.

Migration: Summers in scattered locations throughout the United States.  Winters near Gulf Coast, the southwestern U.S., and points south.

South Dakota "Hotspot" - Cattle Egrets can often be found around other egrets (Snowy Egret, Great Egret), including sometimes forming mixed breeding colonies. The region around Lake Thompson has always been a hotspot for me. The west side of the lake has everything the birds need, including a large water body with scattered waterside trees for nesting, and some very large cattle operations in the area that attract foraging birds.

Interactive eBird Map: Click for access to an interactive eBird map of Cattle Egret sightings

Similar Species: Snowy Egret, Great Egret, immature Little Blue Heron.  See Identification Tips for differentiating between these species.

Conservation Status: Populations still increasing and expanding in range.  They are common in many parts of their range (including globally), and they are found over an extremely wide geographic area. The IUCN considers the Cattle Egret to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Cattle Egret

2) Audubon Field Guide - Cattle Egret

3) Cattle Egret

Photo Information: May 13th, 2018 -- Weisensee Slough, Minnehaha County, South Dakota -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Cattle Egret photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Cattle Egret - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer breeding resident in the northeastern part of the state, uncommon elsewhere in the east, rarer in the west. The data from the NatureServe map above needs updating, although the red dots are indicate of the widespread areas in which they breed.

Additional Cattle Egret Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos 
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