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Page Ardeidae Family

Summary cards


Western Cattle Egret
Bubulcus ibis

Pelecaniformes Order – Ardeidae Family

Length: 46-56 cm
Wingspan: 88-96 cm
Weight: 340-390 g

The Western Cattle Egret’s name comes from its association with cattle. This heron is often seen close to cows, sheep and horses, but also large wild mammals.
This species occurs as well in N, C and S Americas, as in Eurasia, Africa and Australia, including the associated islands.
The Western Cattle Egret is native to some parts of Asia, Africa and southern Europe, but it is now present in all continents except the poles.

Adult in breeding plumage is white with conspicuous orange-buff feathers on crown, breast and back. The bare parts such as bill, lores and legs become bright red during a short period prior to pairing. Eyes are yellow.

In non-breeding period, adult has white plumage, sometimes with pale reddish-buff wash. The bare parts are duller with yellow bill and dark legs and feet.
Both sexes are similar.

The juvenile resembles non-breeding adult and has blackish bill, legs and feet. Eyes are pale yellowish.
The immature has yellow bill with some blackish tinge at tip.

We can find three subspecies:
B.i. ibis occurs in Africa and Madagascar and from SW Europe to Caspian Sea, and also in N, C and S Americas, from Canada to Guianas and N Chile, NE Argentina and some parts of Brazil.

B.i. seychellarum from Seychelles’ Islands. (not displayed)
B.i. coromandus occurs in S and E Asia to Australia and New Zealand.

B.i. coromandus

The races differ on extent and intensity of coloured parts in breeding plumage.
The race B.i. seychellarum is smaller with shorter wings, and the nuptial feathers are rather golden than reddish-buff.
The race B.i. coromandus is larger with heavier bill and longer legs. The reddish-buff parts extent on head, neck, breast and back.

B.i. coromandus

The Western Cattle Egret is usually silent outside the breeding season and away from the colonies. But we can hear sometimes a quiet, harsh, croaking “ruk” or a disyllabic “Rik-rak” while flying and on breeding grounds.
Calls include short and strident notes interspersed with rapid cackling.

The Western Cattle Egret frequents wet areas such as freshwater swamps and ricefields, but also meadows, pastures and open grassy areas, and mainly with cattle.
It usually avoids marine areas and dense forest.
The Western Cattle Egret is less aquatic than other Ardeidae species. It is often seen in wet pastures, dry cultivated fields or semi-arid steppes. It is able to remain far from water for long periods. This bird often follows the ploughs and may occur in suburban and urban zones in some parts of the range.
It occurs from plains to 1200, 1500 metres of elevation, and breeds up to 4000 metres in the Andes in Peru.

The Western Cattle Egret is present in all continents except the poles.

The Western Cattle Egret feeds primarily on insects and crustaceans but it also catches amphibians, fish, lizards, small birds and rodents. It can be seen at rubbish dumps too. According to the range, it may feed on plant matter such as palm-nut pulp.

It moves by walking in a steady strut and stabbing quickly with the bill to catch preys.

This heron is frequently seen close to the legs of cows, sheep, horses and large wild mammals, taking advantage of the disturbed insects to catch them easily. It also follows the ploughs for the same reason.
In Africa, it catches the insects at forest or savannah’s fires.

It often feeds in small groups or loose flocks, and when they find an abundant food source, they may gather in hundreds or thousands.

At the beginning of the breeding season, the males establish the territories and then, their behaviour becomes more aggressive. They perform courtship displays to attract females. Before pairing, one female may attempt to subdue the male by landing on his back. If the male allows her to remain in the territory, the pair-bond is secure in a few hours.

Then, both go to the nest-site where the nest will be built, and usually, the copulation takes place at the nest-site. Some displays are used to expose the bright elongated feathers close to the nest. Then, the male brings nest materials to the female which builds the nest. When one mate returns to the nest, a “greeting-ceremony” is given, displaying the back feathers and flattening the head feathers.

The Western Cattle Egret performs extensive post-breeding dispersion. Populations from tropical regions of all continents are mainly sedentary, only performing movements according to the food resources and also related to the rains.
The northernmost populations move southwards to winter.

The Western Cattle Egret is a good flier. It has fast flight and as other heron’s species, it flies with retracted head and neck, and legs held beyond the tail tip. It often travels in groups. It performs direct flight with rapid wing-beats.

Breeding season varies with the range.
The Western Cattle Egret breeds in colonies from a few tens to several thousands pairs (in Africa). This colonial bird nests often with other species. They nest in reedbeds, bushes and trees, up to 20 metres above the ground, not necessarily near water.

The nest is made with sticks and some vegetation, and can be reused year after year. The Cattle Egret often steals nest materials from neighbours’ nests. They add new materials during the incubation and after hatching.   

Female usually lays 3-5 eggs and incubation by both sexes starts when the clutch is complete. They incubate during 22-26 days. The white downy chicks are brooded for the first ten days. Chicks beg for food aggressively and they are very competitive between them. At 2-3 weeks of age, they are able to climb in the vegetation. They remain in the vicinity of the nest and still beg for food. They are independent at 45 days, and make short flights 5 days later. At two months, they can fly to the feeding areas.
This species produces only one clutch, sometimes more.

The Western Cattle Egret feeds mainly on locusts, grasshoppers and other insects. It also takes crustaceans, frogs, tadpoles, molluscs, fish, lizards, small birds and rodents. It also frequents rubbish-dumps.

The Western Cattle Egret is not threatened. Huge expansions occurred in all continents except the poles. This bird is easily adaptable and takes advantage of the increase of irrigated areas and intensive cattle breeding. It is classified as Least Concern.

Feeding behaviour

and flight


In breeding plumage,

they follow the livestock