cattle egret on a horse

55 Fun Facts About Cattle Egrets: Where Tales Begin!

Prepare to be amazed by the fascinating world of cattle egrets! These elegant birds, known for their unique behavior and adaptability, have a wealth of intriguing secrets to uncover.

In this captivating journey, we’ll dive deep into the lives of these feathered wonders as we present 55 fun facts about cattle egrets.

From their global distribution to their remarkable nesting habits, you’re about to embark on an adventure that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for these remarkable avian companions.”

Cattle Egret (Overview)

Fun Facts About Cattle Egrets

IdentificationCattle Egrets are smaller herons, measuring about 18–23 inches tall with a three-foot wingspan. In their adult form, they have white plumage with a yellow bill, legs, and feet. During breeding, they develop rusty-colored plumes on the hindneck, breast, and back. Juveniles have white plumage with a dark bill, legs, and feet.
Adult Length1.5 – 1.9 feet (18.0-23.0 inches).
Adult Weight9.5 – 18.2 oz (270-515 g).
Wingspan2.9 – 3.2 feet (34.5-38.0 inches).
TaxonomyKingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Aves, Order: Pelecaniformes, Family: Ardeidae, Genus: Bubulcus, Species: B. ibis, Binomial Name: Bubulcus ibis, Scientific Name: Bubulcus ibis.
Distribution RangeAfrica, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Asia, North America, and South America.
MigrationSome populations are highly migratory, covering extensive distances of up to 5,000 miles each year. Migration patterns vary by region, with many heading to North Africa and Asia during winter.
HabitatCoastal areas, swamps, wetlands, pastures, grasslands, and dry regions.
DietMainly amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates (beetles), crustaceans (crayfish), and other fish. They also consume carrion when available.
Global Extent of Occurrence10,000,000 km2 (4,000,000 sq mi).
PopulationGlobal Population: Estimated 3.7–6.8 million individuals; European Population: Estimated 185,000 individuals.
Conservation StatusListed as Least Concern (Population Increasing).
LifespanIn the Wild: 17 years of age; In Captivity: 23 years of age.
Breeding PeriodApril – Mid-September.
Incubation Duration22–28 days.
Nestling Duration14–21 days.
Clutch Size2–4 eggs.
Egg ColorLight Teal.
Nesting HabitsCattle Egrets choose various locations like trees, bushes, reeds, or plants to build nests. They weave materials like grass, leaves, and twigs to construct the nest. The pair incubates 2–4 eggs for about 28 days until hatching. The female cares for the chicks for around 4 weeks until they fledge, typically about 4 weeks after hatching.
  • 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. 
cattle egrets on cattle
Photo by Ashish Kumar on Unsplash
  • 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.
  • 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 excellent flyers, and they are known to travel great distances during their seasonal migrations, often covering thousands of miles.
  • While they primarily follow large mammals for food, cattle egrets are opportunistic feeders and will also catch insects in flight, such as butterflies and moths.
  • These birds are skilled at adapting to changing environments and have been observed nesting in non-traditional habitats, including on man-made structures like cell towers and power poles.
  • Cattle egrets have a diverse diet that can include a wide range of invertebrates, making them versatile and adaptable predators.
  • The cattle egret’s call is a series of harsh, guttural croaks, which they use for communication within their colonies.
  • They are known to engage in mutualistic relationships with herbivores, as they not only feed on insects disturbed by grazing animals but also act as “tickbirds” by removing ticks and other parasites from the bodies of large mammals.
  • In some regions, they are considered sacred birds and are protected by local beliefs and customs.
  • These birds are often associated with certain cultural myths and legends in some indigenous societies where they are found.
  • They have been studied for their role in pest control in agricultural areas, as they help reduce insect populations that can harm crops.
  • Cattle egrets have been introduced to some regions as a biological control measure to manage pests, although this has sometimes led to unintended consequences.
  • In some cases, they have been known to nest alongside colonies of other bird species, forming mixed-species nesting sites.
  • Cattle egrets are highly adaptable to human-altered landscapes and can be found in urban areas, golf courses, and industrial sites, in addition to more natural habitats.

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.


  • Vince S

    Meet Vince, the passionate founder and author of Learn Bird Watching, boasting 30 years of birding experience. With an unwavering mission to empower fellow bird enthusiasts, Vince shares invaluable wisdom and guidance. As a dedicated moderator and contributor to Quora's Bird Watchers' Club, he actively engages with the birding community, where his insightful answers have garnered over 440,000 views and over 2,670 upvotes. Whether you're a budding birder or a seasoned avian aficionado, his wealth of knowledge is at your service.