Cattle Egret
Bubulcus ibis
Population size
4-9.8 Mlnlnn
Life Span
23 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
g oz 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a cosmopolitan species of heron named for its association with cattle. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Bubulcus, although some authorities regard its two subspecies as full species, the Western cattle egret and the Eastern cattle egret. Despite the similarities in plumage to the egrets of the genus Egretta, it is more closely related to the herons of Ardea.


The Cattle egret is a stocky bird. It has a relatively short, thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. The nonbreeding adult has mainly white plumage, a yellow bill, and greyish-yellow legs. During the breeding season, adults of the nominate western subspecies develop orange-buff plumes on the back, breast, and crown, and the bill, legs, and irises become bright red for a brief period prior to pairing. The sexes are similar, but the male is marginally larger and has slightly longer breeding plumes than the female; juvenile birds lack coloured plumes and have a black bill.




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Introduced Countries

Cattle egrets are native to parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe but they have undergone a rapid expansion in their distribution and successfully colonized much of the rest of the world in the last century. Many populations of Cattle egrets are highly migratory, while others are dispersive, and distinguishing between the two can be difficult. In many areas, populations can be both sedentary and migratory. In the Northern Hemisphere, migration is from cooler climes to warmer areas, but Cattle egrets nesting in Australia migrate to cooler Tasmania and New Zealand in the winter and return in the spring. Migration in western Africa is in response to rainfall, and in South America, migrating birds travel south of their breeding range in the non-breeding season. Populations in southern India appear to show local migrations in response to the monsoons. Cattle egrets inhabit wetlands, dry grassy habitats, semi-arid steppes, floodplains, freshwater swamps, shallow marshes, and mangroves. They are often found in fields, croplands, and pastures with poor drainage. When nesting, Cattle egrets are found in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in swamps, or on small inland or coastal islands.

Cattle Egret habitat map

Climate zones

Cattle Egret habitat map
Cattle Egret
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Habits and Lifestyle

Cattle egrets are diurnal, feeding by day and sleeping at night. They are highly social; they feed in flocks and nest in colonies. Cattle egrets share roosting colonies with other colonial waterbirds. Adapted to foraging on land, Cattle egrets have lost the ability possessed by their wetland relatives to accurately correct for light refraction by water. They are usually found with cattle and other large grazing and browsing animals and catch small creatures disturbed by the mammals. Cattle egrets weakly defend the area around a grazing animal against others of the same species, but if the area is swamped by egrets, they will give up and continue foraging elsewhere. Where numerous large animals are present, Cattle egrets selectively forage around species that move at around 5-15 steps per minute, avoiding faster and slower moving herds; in Africa, Cattle egrets prefer to forage behind Plains zebras, Waterbuck, Blue wildebeest, and Cape buffalo. Dominant birds feed nearest to the host and thus obtain more food. Cattle egrets are usually silent but will produce a quiet, throaty ‘rick-rack’ call at the breeding colony.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Cattle egrets are carnivorous mainly insectivorous birds. They feed on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), beetles, and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, fish, crayfish, small snakes, lizards, and earthworms. On islands with seabird colonies, they will prey on the eggs and chicks of terns and other seabirds. In a rare instances, they have been observed foraging along the branches of a banyan tree for ripe figs.

Mating Habits

varies with location
23 days
45 days
1-5 eggs

Cattle egrets are serially 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. Cattle egret nest in colonies, often found around bodies of water. They sometimes nest near other wetland birds, such as herons, egrets, ibises, and cormorants. The breeding season varies within South Asia. Nesting in northern India begins with the onset of monsoons in May. The breeding season in Australia is from November to early January. The North American breeding season lasts from April to October. In the Seychelles, it takes place from April to October. The male displays in a tree in the colony, using a range of ritualized behaviors, such as shaking a twig and sky-pointing (raising his bill vertically upwards), and the pair forms over 3-4 days. The nest is a small, untidy platform of sticks in a tree or shrub constructed by both parents. Sticks are collected by the male and arranged by the female, and stick-stealing is rife. The clutch size can be 1-5 eggs. Incubation lasts around 23 days, with both parents sharing incubation duties. The chicks are partly covered with down at hatching, but are not capable of fending for themselves; they become capable of regulating their temperature at 9-12 days and are fully feathered in 13-21 days. They begin to leave the nest and climb around at 2 weeks, fledge at 30 days, and become independent at around the 45th day.


Population threats

One of the main threats to the Cattle egret population is habitat loss and destruction. For example, wetlands and lakes, which are breeding areas for these birds, undergo drainage for irrigation or the 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.

Population number

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.

Ecological niche

Due to consuming crop pests such as insects, Cattle egrets benefit farmers. They also maintain a special relationship with cattle, which extends to other large grazing mammals. The birds remove ticks and flies from cattle and consume them which benefits both species. According to a study, conducted in Australia, feeding upon insects, Cattle egrets significantly reduce the number of flies that peck cattle off their skin.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • An older English name for the Cattle egret is Buff-backed heron.
  • Cattle egrets successfully catch insects, following large animals and farm machines. In fact, feeding with livestock helps them get about 50% more food, using only two-thirds as much energy as they usually do.
  • Cattle egrets can come to fire from far away in order to catch fleeing insects.
  • Cattle egrets are known to wait for airplanes at airports to pass by grass and blow the insects out.
  • Young Cattle egrets may disperse up to 5,000 km (3,000 mi) from their breeding area. Flocks may fly vast distances and have been seen over seas and oceans including in the middle of the Atlantic!


1. Cattle Egret Wikipedia article -
2. Cattle Egret on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -
4. Video creator -

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