cattle egret on a horse

52 Fun Facts About Cattle Egrets (with Photos, ID & Info)

In this article, we will explore the Cattle Egret, a bird that is native to Africa but now has populations that have expanded worldwide. We’ll explore what they look like, where they live, their habits and many other fun facts you didn’t know about this bird species.


  • Identification: The Cattle Egret is a heron that is on the smaller side, measuring about 18-23″ inches tall with a three-foot wingspan. Adult: Cattle Egrets have a white plumage throughout, with a yellow bill, legs and feet. Breeding: When breeding they have rusty colored plumes on the hindneck, breast, and back. Juvenile: Younger birds have a white plumage throughout with a dark bill, legs and feet bill. 
  • Length: 1.5 – 1.9 feet (18.0-23.0″ in).
  • Weight:  9.5 – 18.2 oz (270-515 g).
  • Wingspan:  2.9 – 3.2 feet (34.5-38.0 in).
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Genus: Bubulcus
  • Species: B. ibis
  • Binomial Name: Bubulcus ibis
  • Scientific Name: Bubulcus ibis
  • Range: Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Asia, North America, and South America.
  • Migration: Some populations are highly-migratory, and some are not. Migration patterns vary by region, but the majority of cattle egrets migrate to North Africa and Asia during the winter. Their migratory pattern is very extensive, with some individuals traveling up to 5,000 miles each year!
  • Habitat: Cattle egrets typically live in coastal areas, swamps, wetlands, pastures, grasslands and even dry regions.
  • Diet: The cattle egret’s diet consists of mainly amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates (such as beetles), crustaceans (such as crayfish) or other fish; however they will also eat carrion if it is available.
  • Global extent of occurrence: 10,000,000 km2 (4,000,000 sq mi).
  • Global Population: est. 3.7–6.8 million individuals.
  • European Population: est. 185,000 individuals.
  • Conservation Status: Listed as Least Concern (Population Increasing).
  • Lifespan: In the Wild: 17 years of age. – In Captivity: 23 years of age.
  • Breeding Period: April – Mid-September.
  • Incubation Duration: 22–28 days.
  • Nestling Duration: 14-21 days.
  • Clutch Size: 2-4 eggs. 
  • Number of Broods: 1 brood per year.
  • Egg Color: Light Teal.
  • Nesting Habits: It has an interesting nesting cycle that consists of several steps. First, the bird selects a location to build its nest; it can choose from trees, bushes, reeds, and other plants. The egret then gathers material near its chosen spot and starts to weave it together with various materials like grass, leaves or twigs. Lastly, the pair will lay 2-4 eggs and incubate them for about 28 days until they hatch; this process is called incubation. The female takes care of the chicks for around 4 weeks until they can survive on their own or until they fledge, which is usually around 4 weeks after hatching.

Fun Facts About Cattle Egrets

  • They are found throughout Africa, South America, North America and Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.
  • Cattle egrets are usually seen inhabiting wetlands or near bodies of water.
  • They often follow cows or other large animals to feed on insects, and parasites disturbed by them.
  • Cattle egrets typically nest in colonies around large trees or shrubs near water sources, often with other wading birds such as American white pelicans, great blue herons, gray herons, little blue herons, spoonbills and sometimes Florida scrub jays or American crows.  
  • Cattle egrets are somewhat migratory, but more of a year-round resident than other herons.  The population is strongly tied to water bodies, meaning more of them can find food within their home territory.
  • The males and females look alike, but the males tend to be larger than the females.
  • The cattle egret is one of the very few birds that feeds on terrestrial (land) insects; it also eats worms, frogs, lizards and small mammals.
  • The cattle egret was first described by Swedish taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
  • Once thought to be an example of convergent evolution with no vocalizations, there are recorded cases of cattle egrets communicating with each other via clicks.  The clicks are produced when hunting for prey or defending their territory against trespassers.
  • The wings of the cattle egret are long and narrow, and it has a relatively long neck.
  • In flight, their necks are often tucked in, making them look shorter.
  • Cattle egrets have a light rust-colored plume patch on the hindneck, which can be used to ruffle up their feathers for distraction display when defending nests from potential predators.  In some cases the tip of this patch may be hidden from view when kept flat against the neck during normal preening activities, but will be raised if needed.
  • Commonly seen often near North American cattle pastures. 
  • Both sexes help with nest building. Nests are made shallow, into a bowl shape, comprised of twigs, sticks, vines, and blades of grass.
  • After about 28 days of incubation, they hatch and are fed by both parents with bugs, frogs, snakes, mice etc. They leave the nest after 10-15 days, and can fly after 25 days.
  • Cattle Egrets are very social animals that live in clusters called colonies. They are usually not found individually, although individuals can be seen wandering around smaller groups of one to five birds.
  • Cattle egrets are long-lived birds, with a mean life expectancy of 17 years in the wild and 23 years in captivity.
  • The majority of Cattle Egrets do not migrate; they remain year-round in the same general area, unless there is bad weather or food shortages.
  • The cows are not afraid of the herons because they do not harm them.
  • Cattle egrets are seasonally monogamous breeders; and do not form long-term pair bonds with one another.
  • They mate only once every year, staying together only until nesting season has finished.
  • Cattle egrets usually feed by standing still in shallow water or tall grass while waiting for prey to come within reach.
  • Occasionally they may move slowly through vegetation while probing with their bill.
  • Cattle Egrets are known for their habit to eat ticks from cattle and other livestock. The insects they consume from cattle will often carry diseases such as Lyme disease, which they transfer to other animals and humans through their droppings, feathers and feet.
  • Cattle Egrets spread from their native country in Africa, to South America in 1877, and arrived in the United States in 1941.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do cattle egrets do for cattle

Cattle egrets have been known to help by eating parasites off the skin of cattle. This can be helpful to farmers because it helps keep their livestock healthy.

Do egrets sit on cows?

Egrets have been known to sit or stand on cows since ancient times, providing protection from bugs and other pests that would otherwise bother the cows. 

Can you shoot cattle egrets?

Cattle egrets are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be shot in accordance with this law. Cattle egrets are classified as a migratory bird under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which means they cannot be shot or killed by anyone for any reason.

Why is it called a cattle egret?

The name cattle egret comes from its tendency to live near grazing livestock such as cattle, sheep, horses and buffalo herds. 

Do cattle egrets eat grasshoppers?

Cattle egrets are often seen eating grasshoppers. Grasshoppers provide an important source of food for cattle egrets, especially during the breeding season, when they need more protein to feed their chicks.