The Cattle Egret is about 20″ tall; it is similar to the Snowy Egret but has a yellow bill and a stockier shape with a shorter neck. You will most likely see this bird foraging in the grass instead of water, since it rarely eats fish like other egrets. Instead it eats mostly insects.
The Cattle Egret is white overall. Its eyes are yellow and it has a swollen looking throat. It also has dark green or yellow-green legs which are shorter than the Snowy Egret. During breeding season, it has yellow-orange feathers on its breast and back, as well as on its crest. In high breeding, the legs turn red and the head crest is erected along the back to display for the mate. Males and females look similar. Immature birds have a black beak and look like a non-breeding adults.
Range & Habitat
The Cattle Egret is a newcomer to North America; it has only been here since the 1950′s. It found its way here from Africa making, its way across the Atlantic. Now it can be found in all of the lower 48 states, as well as Canada and Baja, California.
It comes by it name “Cattle” Egret because it will follow livestock to feed on the insects they disturb. Sometimes you will find it perched on the backs of the livestock. In the same way, it will follow an object such as a tractor which will also flush out prey. This way of feeding expends much less energy and helps the egret thrive. It eats insects, grasshoppers, dragonflies, larvae, lizards, mice and small birds. You might see it in small groups hopping and flying after its prey. The bird in the front will find an insect, disturbing other insects for the flock behind it. The birds in the rear will leapfrog to the front and so on. For safety, it roosts in colonies where preening is a common activity. Its call is a hoarse croak.
Breeding & Nesting
During breeding the Cattle Egret will raise the crest on its head, move its head up and down snap its beak. This bill clapping and stretching are part of bonding during courtship. Its bright orange colors fade after the female has laid her eggs. They are colonial nesters, nesting with other egrets and herons in trees. Both of the mates build the nest and incubate the 4-5 eggs. The female will nest at night while the male defends the territory. The young hatch in around 3 to 3 ½ weeks and are covered in light gray down. The parents feed them by regurgitating food. The young are vocal and begin to climb out on tree branches at about 3 weeks. In about six weeks they are able to feed themselves. The pair may raise more than one brood during the season. Young Cattle Egrets will practice courting gestures and nest building.