Cattle Egret


The cattle egret, also known as the buff-backed heron, is a white bird that ranges in length from 19 inches to 21 inches. They have a short, yellow bill. Their legs and feet are a light orange color. They have a medium-size length neck. When it is breeding season, the adult birds develop buff feathers on their heads, backs, and breasts. Their legs and bills also become brighter in color.


Originally from Africa, the cattle egret is now distributed among six different continents: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. In the United States, the cattle egret can be found in every state except Indiana, New Hampshire, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The birds have also taken up a migratory pattern, which take them in the winter to Latin America and the Caribbean. The egrets habitat consist of fields, marshes, freshwater wetlands, pastures, livestock pens, swamps, and air strips. The cattle egret can be found near cattle because it eats the insects that associate with cattle.


Cattle egrets live in colonies and are very sociable. Colonies can consist of several hundreds of birds living in one big tree. They also nest with other types of birds. Cattle egret travel daily to foraging areas singly or in flocks. The egrets follow cattle, wild or domesticated feeding on the insects that are disturbed by the cattle. These birds are very adaptable to the new environments.


The diet of cattle egrets consists of insects particularly grasshoppers and they avoid bumble bees, wasps, and yellow jackets. They expend less energy in catching their food by following cattle and farm machinery and catching the insects that are flushed. In aquatic habitats they eat frogs and fish. Captive egrets in zoos are given smelt, mealworms, and crickets to eat.


During the mating season the adult birds start to display their buff plumes upon their head, breast, and back. The male bird collects materials for a nest; the female then creates the nest. The pair mate while on their nest. About 2-6 eggs are laid. The eggs are incubated for about 18-30 days. The mother gives an additional amount of male hormones to the first eggs that are laid. This supplement makes these chicks more aggressive. This may be the mothers way to give an extra push for the survival of the first born chicks. The first born chick may kill the younger ones when competing for food.

Cattle egrets are not endangered or threatened species. In fact, they are highly successful because they feed around large grazing animals. These birds are common. Since the late 1800s these birds have expanded across half the world. The cattle egret was introduced to Hawaii in 1959 and they may be accountable for the decrease in native wetland birds because of their increasing competition for food and nest areas, and directly preying upon young birds.