Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)


Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family:    Ardeidae
Size:    Length: 17 to 22 inches (43 to 56 cm)   Wingspan: 34 to 38 inches (88 to 96 cm)
Weight: 10 to 14 ounces (283 to 396 g)
Diet: Grasshoppers, flies, ticks, termites, spiders, moths, crickets, beetles, dragonflies, toads and frogs 
Distribution: North America, South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe
Young:  2 to 5 chicks, once a year
Animal Predators:  Unknown
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Chick
Lifespan: Up to 20 years



·     This bird is sometimes called the “buff-backed heron,” “elephant bird” or “hippopotamus egret.”

·     Some ranchers rely more on cattle egrets for fly control than pesticides.

·     Cattle egrets spend less time near water than other egrets do.

·     The cattle egret’s name in Arabic, Abu Qerdan, means “father of ticks” and in North America, it is sometimes called “tick bird” or “tick heron.”  



Cattle egrets are small, white herons with a stout orange-yellow bill. Their feet are large with long toes and their legs are orange-yellow. During breeding season, however, the feathers on their head and back become an orange-red. Because of their short neck and round back, these birds look as if they are hunched over, even when standing up straight. 



Originally found in the grasslands of Africa, Asia and Europe, cattle egrets expanded to South America in the late 1800s. It is not known precisely how they arrived, but it is believed they flew across the Atlantic. Over the years, as South American rainforests began to disappear due to human development, cattle egrets spread northward in the mid-1900s and can now be found in 43 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. They tend to live in areas that combine grasslands with water, such as marshes, lakes and swamps.


Feeding Habits

In North and South America, these birds are often found near domestic cattle. They sit on the backs of the cattle and as the large animals graze, insects such as grasshoppers—one of cattle egrets’ favourite foods—are stirred up by the cattle’s feet. It is also believed that cattle egrets eat flies and ticks from the backs of cattle. In Africa and Asia, they can be found with large grazing animals such as elephants, buffalo and zebras. Cattle egrets also eat termites, spiders, moths, crickets, beetles, dragonflies, toads and frogs. 



Cattle egrets form monogamous twosomes for the length of a mating season. The male gathers twigs, reeds and branches and brings them back to the female, who constructs a shallow, cup-shaped nest six to 12 feet (1.8 to 3.6 m) above the ground in a tree. One tree may hold many nests, as these birds are very social and like to congregate. Mating takes place in the nest once it is completed. The female lays the pale blue eggs in intervals, with as much as two days passing between each egg. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, keeping them warm at night by sitting on them, and cooling them during hot days by providing shade with their wings. The first egg hatches in three weeks, and the rest will hatch over the following week. Two to three weeks after hatching, the chicks can climb from the nest and go exploring, but remain nearby, as they still rely on their parents for food. By the time they are two months old they can fly and obtain their own food.  



Cattle egrets are social birds that live in colonies of several hundred birds. They can be found nesting not only with egrets, but also with other bird species. 



Cattle egret populations are thriving—there are more cattle egrets in North America than all other egrets and herons combined.



Harrison, C. and Greensmith, A. (1993). Birds of the World. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited