Conservation status North American population may still be increasing, although not as rapidly as in earlier years. In northern heronries, may compete with native species for nest sites; thought to have crowded out native herons or egrets in some instances. In general, however, little negative impact on any native species.
Family Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Habitat Farms, marshes, highway edges; often associates with cattle. Widespread in any kind of open country, including pastures, plowed fields, lawns, roadsides. Also in aquatic habitats, including flooded fields, marshes. Nests in trees or shrubs, in colonies with other herons and egrets.
The remarkable range expansion of the Cattle Egret represents one of the great avian success stories. Unknown in North America prior to 1952, it is now abundant over much of the continent. It spread from Africa to northeastern South America in the 1870s and 1880s; more recently it has colonized Australasian region. Unlike other herons and egrets, this species typically feeds in dry fields, often following cattle (or other animals) and waiting for them to flush insects into view.

Feeding Behavior

Usually forages in flocks in dry fields, very often in association with grazing animals -- usually cattle or horses in North America, but on other continents also elephants, camels, zebras, deer, many others. Insects are flushed from grass by animals, caught by egrets. At times, Cattle Egrets will follow tractors or even lawnmowers for the same result.


3-4, sometimes 1-9. Pale blue. Incubation is by both sexes, 21-26 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young begin to climb about near nest after 15-20 days, begin to fly at 25-30 days, and become independent at about 45 days.


Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young begin to climb about near nest after 15-20 days, begin to fly at 25-30 days, and become independent at about 45 days.


Mostly insects. When associating with grazing animals in fields, diet is mostly large insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies; also frogs, spiders, moths. Elsewhere may feed on crayfish, earthworms, snakes, nestling birds, eggs, sometimes fish. May scavenge for edible refuse in dumps.


Usually first breeds at age of 2-3 years. Breeds in colonies, usually joining colonies already established by other herons and egrets despite very different feeding habitat. Male establishes pairing territory (in or near colony) and displays there to attract mate. Displays include stretching neck and raising plumes while swaying from side to side, making short flights with exaggerated deep wingbeats. Nest: Site is in colony, in trees or shrubs, often in swamps or on island. Nest (built mostly by female, with materials mostly brought by male) is platform or shallow bowl of sticks, often with green leafy twigs added.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Strongly migratory. Birds from northern breeding areas in North America may winter to West Indies, Central America, northern South America. Common at all seasons in Florida, Gulf Coast, parts of southwest. Dispersal of young birds may cover long distances, even thousands of miles, in random directions; this behavior probably aided the species' colonization of much of the world.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Hoarse croaks
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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