Ciconiiforme Order – Ardeidae Family
Lenght: 80-104 cm
Wingspan: 140-170 cm
Weight: 700-1500 g
In breeding plumage, Great Egret has white plumage with long feathers on the back, extending beyond the tail. The bill is yellow with dark tip.
In high breeding season, the bill may become orange-yellow with green lores. Great Egret lacks crest or long feathers on crown.
Fr: Grande aigrette
All : Silberreiher
Esp : Garceta Grande
Ital: Airone bianco maggiore
Nd: Grote Zilverreiger
Russe: Большая белая цапля
Tom Grey's Bird Pictures
Tom Merigan’s Photo Galleries
Text by Nicole Bouglouan
HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105
THE HANDBOOK OF BIRD IDENTIFICATION FOR EUROPE AND THE WESTERN PALEARCTIC by Mark Beaman, Steve Madge - C.Helm - ISBN: 0713639601
A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF MEXICO AND NORTHERN CENTRAL AMERICA by Steve N. G. Howell, Sophie Webb - Oxford University Press - ISBN: 0198540124
BIRDS OF THE GAMBIA AND SENEGAL by Clive Barlow and Tim Wacher – Helm Field guides – ISBN: 0713675497
Outside breeding season, Great Egret has white plumage without long feathers on back. Long bill and lores are yellow. Eyes are yellow. Legs and feet are black all year round.
Great Egret resembles Great Blue Heron in white phase, but this one is larger than Great Egret, and has yellow legs.
Both sexes are similar, with male slightly larger.
Juvenile resembles non breeding adult, with bill and legs duller in colour.
We can find 4 subspecies :
E.a. alba is found from C Europe to C Asia, and Iran. It winters in N and C Africa, in Persian Gulf, and southwards to S China and Korea.
E.a. modesta is found in India, in SE Asia, Japan and Korea, and southwards in Indonesia to Australia New Zealand.
E.a. melanorhynchos lives in Africa, south of the Sahara and Madagascar.
E.a. egretta is found in N, C and S of the Americas, from N USA to C Argentina.
These races differ by the coloration of the bare parts during the breeding season.
VOICE: SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO
Great Egret utters a harsh low “corr”. When disturbed, it squawks harshly to defend its territory, uttering a deep croak. We can hear some low calls on the nest site.
Great Egret frequents freshwater and saltwater marshes, ponds, lakes, mud flats, large rivers and flooded fields.
It is also found near coasts, in mangroves and mudflats, ricefields and cultivated areas, and usually at low elevation, although it may breed higher according to the range, especially in the Andes
Great Egret lives in most of parts of the world in the five continents, but more in southern hemisphere. Northern birds move southwards in winter.
Great Egret feeds on aquatic and terrestrial insects and vertebrates. It may use one foot to stir up the water and scare up a prey. It walks slowly in shallow water, catching fishes and insects. It can stand motionless for long periods, waiting for prey to come by. When it spots a prey, it quickly stabs at it.
On land, it catches small mammals such as mice and voles.
Great Egret ingests more medium-sized prey than larger, preferring to catch high quality food, and not large quantity of food.
Great Egret steals the most of its food to other smaller herons. It may also fight for food, within its own family group. It is an aggressive species in several situations.
It is a diurnal feeder, gathering at dusk in communal roosts.
They nest in colonies with other heron species, in low trees or reed beds. Each male establishes a territory around the nest-site, and starts to build a nest. This rough shape of nest made with sticks, twigs and reeds is used for courtship displays, a series of rituals to attract a female.
Courtship displays show egrets erecting their wonderful long feathers on back and neck. These feathers are spread like a very large fan.
Birds may perform circling flights, snapping, while they utter their advertising calls. Breeding season usually begins in mid-April.
Territorial defence includes erect posture and supplanting flights at intruder.
Great Egret has a buoyant direct flight, with deep, steady wing beats. During the flight, it holds its neck in an open S-shape, folded onto back. It lands after a long glide, sometimes with a circle of the site. It may manoeuvre with ease through the branches.
Great Egret nests in trees over water, at about 6 to 12 metres above water or ground. When the pair is formed, both adults finish building the nest, just before the eggs are laid.
The nest is a loose platform made with sticks and twigs, stems of aquatic plants, with little or no lining. Adults add some twigs or reeds until the young fledge. The same nest may be reused year after year.
Female lays 4 to 5 smooth, greenish blue or pale blue eggs. Incubation lasts about 23 to 24 days, by both adults. Chicks hatch semi-altricial, covered with long white down with silky tips. They have pinkish-orange bill.
Both adults feed the young by regurgitated food directly into their mouths.
Young leave the nest at about 3 weeks, and climb into the surrounded branches, but they are fed at nest, by regurgitated food into the nest. One week later, they are fed outside the nest.
They start to perform short flights about 35 to 40 days after hatching. They reach their sexual maturity at 2 or 3 years of age.
This species produces one brood per season.
Great Egret feeds on fishes, amphibians, crustaceans, aquatic and terrestrial insects, snakes and small birds and small mammals such as mice and voles.
Great Egrets are now protected under the law, but this species come close to extinction, due to excessive hunting for breeding feathers at the beginning of the 20th century.
Degradation of wet areas, habitat loss and development of coastal areas are important threats for this species.
Nest predators include raccoons, owls and hawks. Adults may be killed by coyotes and hawks while they are foraging.