• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis ORDER: PELECANIFORMES FAMILY: ARDEIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The short, thick-necked Cattle Egret spends most of its time in fields rather than streams. It forages at the feet of grazing cattle, head bobbing with each step, or rides on their backs to pick at ticks. This stocky white heron has yellow plumes on its head and neck during breeding season. Originally from Africa, it found its way to North America in 1953 and quickly spread across the continent. Elsewhere in the world, it forages alongside camels, ostriches, rhinos, and tortoises—as well as farmers’ tractors.

Subscribe to Living Bird Magazine
ML Essential Set

Keys to identification Help

Herons
Herons
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Compared with other herons, Cattle Egrets are noticeably small and compact. They have relatively short legs and a short thick neck. The straight, daggerlike bill is shorter and thicker than other herons. They have medium-length, broad, rounded wings.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult Cattle Egrets are all white with a yellow bill and legs. In breeding plumage they have golden plumes on their head, chest, and back. Juveniles have dark legs and bill.

  • Behavior

    Cattle Egrets stalk insects and other small animals on the ground in grassy fields. They are much less often seen in water than other herons. They nest in dense colonies of stick nests in trees or emergent wetlands, often mixed with other species of herons.

  • Habitat

    They forage in flocks in upland areas such as pastures and fields, generally focusing on drier habitats than other species of white herons.

Range Map Help

Cattle Egret Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

  • Snowy Egrets are taller and more slender than Cattle Egrets. They have longer legs, neck, and bill, and have black bills and blackish legs contrasting with yellow feet. Snowy Egrets are usually found in wetter habitats than Cattle Egrets. Great Egrets are much larger than Cattle Egrets and their very long legs are black. In flight, Great Egrets show a much slower, deeper wingbeat than Cattle Egrets. Immature Little Blue Herons are mostly white, but they are more slender than Cattle Egrets, with greener legs and more grayish-green at the base of the bill.

Find This Bird

To find Cattle Egrets, head to agricultural areas near wetlands. These are tropical herons, so your best chances will be in warm parts of the southern U.S. Seeing Cattle Egrets is not difficult once you find the right habitat—they usually walk around in the open, on dry land, as they hunt grasshoppers and other small animals. True to their name, Cattle Egrets often associate with cows and other large farm animals, waiting to strike until the cow disturbs an insect or frog. Sometimes, Cattle Egrets even stand atop cows and horses, making them both easy to spot and easy to identify.