- ORDER: Pelecaniformes
- FAMILY: Ardeidae
The short, thick-necked Western 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.More ID Info
Find This Bird
To find Western 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.
- Garcilla Bueyera Occidental (Spanish)
- Héron garde-boeufs (French)
- Cool Facts
- In 2023, ornithologists split Cattle Egret into two species: Western Cattle Egret and Eastern Cattle Egret. Western Cattle Egret occurs in Africa, western Asia, southern Europe, and the Americas. Eastern Cattle Egret, meanwhile, inhabits southern and eastern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
- Western Cattle Egrets are native to Africa but somehow reached northeastern South America in 1877. They continued to spread, arriving in the United States in 1941 and nesting there by 1953. In the next 50 years, they became one of the most abundant of the North American herons, showing up as far north as Alaska and Newfoundland.
- Western Cattle Egrets follow large animals or machines and eat invertebrates stirred up from the ground. They will fly toward smoke from long distances away, to catch insects fleeing a fire.
- The Western Cattle Egret has a broad and flexible diet that occasionally includes other birds. In the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida, migrating cattle egrets have been seen hunting migrating warblers.
- Western and Eastern Cattle Egrets have many names around the world, usually referencing the grazing animals they team up with to forage. In various languages they are known as cow cranes, cow herons, cow birds, elephant birds, rhinoceros egrets, and hippopotamus egrets.
- The oldest Western Cattle Egret on record was at least 17 years old when it was captured and released in Pennsylvania in 1979. It was originally banded in Maryland in 1962.