South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Great Egret

Ardea alba

Length: 37 to 41 inches Wingspan: 56 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Large size, all white plumage, yellow bill, black legs and feet

Great Egret - Ardea albaGreat Egrets are the largest of the white egrets found in the state.  A very widespread species, Great Egrets are found on every continent except Antarctica. After playing a key role in it's recovery after nearly being exterminated by 1900, the Audubon Society chose the Great Egret as its symbol.  Note the long lacy plumage in the breeding bird on the right, and the green lores of another breeding bird in the photo on the bottom.  Non breeding birds lack the lacy plumage and green lores in front of the eyes.

Habitat:  Sloughs, ponds, marshes, and flooded pastures.  Nests in thickets or trees, usually adjacent to water, but occasionally further away from water.

Diet: Mostly fish.  Also eats crustaceans, frogs, salamanders, snakes, and aquatic insects.  May chase grasshoppers in open fields.

Behavior: Forages by standing still or walking slowly, waiting for prey to approach, and the stabbing it with a quick thrust of the bill.  While they primarily feed along wetlands and water features, they will occasionally also feed in open fields and even follow cattle like Cattle Egrets.

Nesting: Mid-June to July.  They usually nest in colonies, sometimes mixed with other wading birds, but they will also sometimes build solitary nests.  The nest is a platform of sticks built in a tree or tall shrub.  The female usually lays 3 or 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge after about 6 or 7 weeks.

Song: Bold throaty croaking or repeated cuk, cuk.

Migration: Winters in coastal areas and south through Mexico.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Great Egret sightings

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

Conservation Status: Was nearly extinct by 1900 due to demand for it's plumes, along with many of the egrets and herons.  Thanks to early conservation efforts by groups like the Audubon Society, they (and other egrets) have gradually recovered since.  Today the IUCN lists the Great Egret as a species of "Least Concern".

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

2) Great Egret

3) Great Egret

Photo Information: April 25th, 2004 - Kingsbury County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

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


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Great Egret - Range map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant and summer resident in the northeastern part of the state.  Uncommon elsewhere in the east, rare in the west.