Among the species of the same category, the Cattle egret has a relatively small body. It has long brownish hair on the crown of its head. The feathers are white with slight brown coloring. Lean and short legs are reddish brown in color. The Cattle egret has a slender reddish beak with a bright yellow top.
The Cattle egret is a native African and southern Spanish species, also found in Eurasia and North America (except for the west and far north). In addition, the area of their distribution includes Australia and, partly, South America. The major habitat of the cattle egret is wetlands, grasslands and woodlands. These birds generally avoid arid areas. They are found in croplands and pastures with poor drainage. The egrets are often seen with cattle and other livestock. Also, the Cattle egrets occasionally forage at garbage dumps.
Cattle egrets are diurnal, feeding by day and sleeping at night. They are known to be highly sociable animals, closely associating with grazing species. Cattle egrets share roosting colonies with other colonial waterbirds. The egrets are migratory birds, gathering in flocks with other ardeid species. Yet, Cattle egrets wander extensively, so it's difficult to distinguish whether they migrate or just disperse. Also, these birds usually fly in flocks to and from breeding, roosting and feeding sites. A male at the colony site can defend one or two territories. However, these birds always feed in flocks, so there's no territorialism at the feeding site, since it belongs to the entire flock.
Cattle egrets are generally insectivorous. Their diet consists of insects such as locusts and grasshoppers. These birds also consume rodents, lizards, frogs, crustaceans, tadpoles, mollusks, fish as well as small species of bird. In addition, they often forage at rubbish dumps.
Cattle egrets are seasonally monogamous: they mate once a year, staying together until the end of the nesting season. They do not tend to pair again with their mates from previous years. The male finds and brings sticks while the female builds from it a nest in a tree or shrub, after which 3-4 eggs are laid. Breeding season depends on the region. Both the male and the female participate in incubation of the eggs during 24 days. These birds are very careful parents: both of them feed their chicks by regurgitation and one of them is constantly with the young during the first 10 days of their lives. About three weeks after hatching, the chicks start climbing around the nest. The young egrets start flying at the age of four weeks, while at about 6-7 weeks they are fully independent. By this time, juveniles become strong flyers, able to travel long distances. They usually start breeding at 2 years old.
One of the main threats to the Cattle egret population is habitat loss and destruction. For example, wetlands and lakes, that are breeding areas for these birds, undergo drainage for irrigation or production of hydroelectric power. Consequently, in some areas of their habitat, these birds are threatened with pesticide poisoning. On the other hand, colonies of Cattle egrets, nesting in urban areas, can be unwelcome and persecuted. In Nigeria, these birds are hunted for commercial trade at local traditional medicine markets.
The total number of Cattle egret population is about 4.000.000-9.850.000 individuals. The European population is estimated at 76.100-92.300 pairs, which equates to 152.000-185.000 mature individuals. The species has increasing population and is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Due to consuming crop pest such as insects, these birds benefit farmers and protect cattle from infestations of ticks.