Photo: Bob Bailey/Audubon Photography Awards

Priority Bird

Reddish Egret

Egretta rufescens

A conspicuously long-legged, long-necked wader of coastal regions, more tied to salt water than any of our other herons or egrets. Often draws attention by its feeding behavior: running through shallows with long strides, staggering sideways, leaping in air, raising one or both wings, and abruptly stabbing at fish. Also notable for its two color morphs. Reddish Egrets are either dark or white for life, beginning with the downy stage in the nest. Mated pairs may be of the same or different color morphs, and broods of young may include either or both morphs. Over most of range, dark birds are far more numerous.
Conservation status Numbers were decimated by plume hunters in late 1800s. Reportedly not seen in Florida between 1927 and 1937, but numbers have gradually increased under complete protection. Current United States population roughly 2000 pairs. White morph apparently made up a higher percentage of the total population prior to persecution by plume hunters.
Family Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Habitat Coastal tidal flats, salt marshes, shores, lagoons. Does most feeding in calm shallow waters along coast, in protected bays and estuaries. Nesting habitat is mostly in red mangrove swamps in Florida, on arid coastal islands covered with thorny brush in Texas.
A conspicuously long-legged, long-necked wader of coastal regions, more tied to salt water than any of our other herons or egrets. Often draws attention by its feeding behavior: running through shallows with long strides, staggering sideways, leaping in air, raising one or both wings, and abruptly stabbing at fish. Also notable for its two color morphs. Reddish Egrets are either dark or white for life, beginning with the downy stage in the nest. Mated pairs may be of the same or different color morphs, and broods of young may include either or both morphs. Over most of range, dark birds are far more numerous.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, white morph
  • juvenile
  • adult, white morph
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Has a wide variety of feeding behaviors. Often very active, running through shallows with head tilted to one side, suddenly changing direction or leaping sideways. May stand still and partly spread wings; schools of small fish may instinctively seek shelter in the shaded area thus created. Also feeds more placidly at times.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-7. Pale blue-green. Incubation is by both sexes, probably about 25-26 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Young may leave ground nests at about 4 weeks and wander about island, but probably not capable of sustained flight until 6-7 weeks.


Young

Both parents feed young. Young may leave ground nests at about 4 weeks and wander about island, but probably not capable of sustained flight until 6-7 weeks.

Diet

Mostly fish. Primarily eats small fish, with minnows, mullet, and killifish reported as major percentages; also frogs, tadpoles, crustaceans, rarely aquatic insects.


Nesting

Generally breeds in spring in Texas; in Florida may breed mainly in winter or spring. In courtship, male perches in future nesting site, stretches head and neck upward and backward with shaggy feathers fully raised, then tosses head forward repeatedly. May perform a variant of this display in flight. Male also walks in circles around female standing in shallows, tossing his head and raising one or both wings. Breeds in colonies. Nest: Site is typically on ground in Texas, 3-15' above water in mangroves in Florida. Nest, built by both sexes, a platform of sticks or grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Mostly permanent resident, but some Texas birds may move south in winter. Wanders north along Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts, very rarely inland. Birds from western Mexico wander north into California.

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Migration

Mostly permanent resident, but some Texas birds may move south in winter. Wanders north along Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts, very rarely inland. Birds from western Mexico wander north into California.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Squawks and croaks.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Herons, Egrets, Bitterns Long-legged Waders

Reddish Egret

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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Coastal Stewardship: Gulf

Coastal Stewardship: Gulf

Restoring vital coastal wetlands for colonial and beach-nesting birds

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Central Flyway Migration Corridor

Central Flyway Migration Corridor

Protecting the Central Flyway’s diverse marsh and wetland habitats for migrating species

Read more

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