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Great Egret

Ardea alba

The largest all-white egret in most parts of its range, these tall, stately waterbirds are widespread in temperate and tropical areas across the globe.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

Young Great Egrets at their nest

Great Egret

Great Egret displaying

Great Egret

Great Egret hunting in wetlands

Great Egret

Great Egret in-flight with gathered nesting materials

Great Egret

Great Egret portrait

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Ardea alba

Other names:

Great White Egret, Common Egret, Large Egret, Great White Heron


Herons, storks and ibises

Conservation status:

Not Assessed



97cm to 104cm


140cm to 170cm


700g to 1.7kg

Appearance & Identiifcation

What do Great Egrets look like?

The Great Egret is a tall, slender bird with all-white plumage and a small head that merges into a long, S-shaped neck. They have very long black legs and a spear-like yellow bill. In the breeding season, adults develop green lores between the eyes and bill and long, showy plumes on their backs.

Females and males look alike throughout the year, although males tend to be larger and heavier. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults.

Great Egrets look very similar to smaller white Egrets like the Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, and Little Egret (UK). They can also be confused with the all-white Southeastern form of the Great Blue Heron and the white form of the Reddish Egret. The combination of size, shape, leg and bill color is the best way to differentiate the species.

Great Egret standing on a metal rail by the water

Great Egret standing on a metal rail by the water

How big are Great Egrets?


Great Egrets are tall, lanky birds. They have a body length of 37 to 41 inches (approximately 1 meter) and stand at about the same height.


Despite their impressive height, these birds weigh just 2.2 pounds or 1 kilogram on average, with a weight range of 1½ - 3¾ pounds or 0.7 to 1.7 kilograms.


Typical wingspans range between 55 and 67 inches or 1.4 to 1.7 meters.

Great Egret taking off from the water

Great Egret taking off from the water

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Great Egret make?

Great Egrets are most vocal during the breeding season when they make various harsh croaking calls, while alarmed birds make a raucous ‘kraaak’ call at any time of the year. They also snap their bills shut to create a loud non-vocal sound during aggressive displays.

Great Egret calling out from its treetop perch

Great Egret calling out from its treetop perch


What do Great Egrets eat?

Great Egrets are carnivorous birds that feed primarily on fish and other small aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates. They hunt in water up to about a foot (0.3m) deep, usually by walking slowly and striking at their prey with lightning speed. Great Egrets occasionally hunt away from the water, stalking prey like gophers and other rodents.

Check out this detailed guide to learn more about Egrets' diets (various species).

What do Great Egret chicks eat?

Great Egret chicks eat fish regurgitated directly into their bill or deposited onto the floor of the nest.

Great Egret with prey in its beak

Great Egret with prey in its beak

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Great Egret?

Great Egrets occur in a variety of wetland environments, including both freshwater and tidal saltwater habitats. They occasionally hunt over dry fields and pastures.

What is the range of a Great Egret?

Great Egrets are a cosmopolitan species that is present on every continent except Antarctica. In the Northern Hemisphere, these birds occur through North America to Southern Canada, in scattered localities across Europe, and throughout Southern and Southeast Asia.

They are most widespread in the Southern Hemisphere, occurring as a resident species in suitable habitats throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America.

Where do Great Egrets live?

Great Egrets spend most of their day in and around the water where they hunt. They rest and nest in colonies, usually with other Egrets, Herons, and Cormorants.

How rare are Great Egrets?

Great Egrets are generally common and easy to spot in suitable habitats.

Where can you see Great Egrets in the US?

Great White Egrets are most numerous across the south of the United States where they are resident. However, they occur throughout the year as far north as Oregon on the West Coast and New Jersey in the Northeast. Many birds migrate through the South and into the Midwest to breed in the summer, reaching Minnesota and Wisconsin in the north.

Where can you see Great Egrets in Canada?

Great Egrets occur as summer breeding visitors to southeast Canada. They reach the northern limits of their breeding range in southern Manitoba but also nest in southern Ontario and Quebec.

Where can you see Great Egrets in the UK?

Great Egrets are rare in the United Kingdom, with less than a hundred breeding pairs. They have, however, become a regular sighting, particularly in East Anglia and southeast England.

Breeding pair of Great Egrets in natural habitat

Breeding pair of Great Egrets in natural habitat

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Great Egrets live?

Great Egrets can live for over 22 years in the wild.

What are the predators of Great Egrets?

Adult Great Egrets are vulnerable to mammals like Raccoons and Otters, while eggs and young may be taken by a variety of birds, including Corvids, Red-tailed Hawks, Great-horned Owls, Turkey Vultures, and Peregrine Falcons.

Are Great Egrets protected?

Great Egrets are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States and the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994 in Canada. They are also protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the United Kingdom.

Are Great Egrets endangered?

Great Egrets are a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List, with a global population estimated at up to 22 million individuals.

Great Egret walking in water

Great Egret walking in water

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Great Egrets nest?

Great Egrets nest in colonies, usually in trees and shrubs over the water or on islands, although some pairs nest in reedbeds or on the ground. They construct a large platform nest of twigs, up to about four feet (1.2m) wide but usually smaller. The nest site is chosen by the male who does most or all of the construction.

When do Great Egrets nest?

Great Egrets lay their eggs as early as March in the United States, with a peak in April and May. The eggs hatch after 23 to 29 days, and the young birds begin to leave the nest temporarily after about three weeks. However, they aren’t capable of sustained flight until they are about two months old.

What do Great Egret eggs look like?

Great Egrets usually lay about three blue-green eggs per season, although clutch sizes of one to six have been recorded. Their eggs measure about 56 millimeters long and 41 millimeters wide, but the average dimensions vary between the subspecies.

Do Great Egrets mate for life?

It is unclear whether Great Egret pairs last more than a single season, although they are seasonally monogamous when nesting.

Great egret nest

Nest of a Great Egret with two eggs

Great egret at nest with chicks

Great Egret parent at nest with chicks


Are Great Egrets aggressive?

Great Egrets are aggressively territorial when breeding and will fight off intruders with their bills, legs, and wings. They are also territorial over prime hunting grounds, although they feed in flocks when food is abundant.

Where do Great Egrets sleep at night?

Great Egrets roost in trees and shrubs, often in groups and in the company of other bird species. They will also sleep in the nest while incubating eggs.

Great Egret resting by the water

Great Egret resting by the water


Do Great Egrets migrate?

Great Egrets are migratory across much of their Northern Hemisphere range. These birds migrate north to breed in the summer months and return to the south or to lower-altitude coastal areas for the winter.

Why do Great Egrets migrate?

Great Egrets migrate to ice-free hunting grounds in the winter. These birds usually hunt in shallow water, so the northern limits of their range are only suitable in the warmer months.

Are Great Egrets native to North America?

Great Egrets are widespread native migrants and breeding residents in North America, occurring from Panama in the south to southeastern Canada in the north.

Are Great Egrets native to the UK?

Great Egrets appear to be newcomers to the United Kingdom, with the first record in 1821. They are colonizing the UK without assistance or introduction and have now become a regular breeding species.

Great Egret in-flight with fish in its beak

Great Egret in-flight with fish in its beak


Is a Great White Heron the same as a Great White Egret?

Although similar in size and appearance, the Great White Heron is an all-white subspecies of the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that is rare outside of Florida in the United States and the Caribbean and Yucatan Peninsula to the south. The Great White Egret (A. alba), or Great Egret, is a smaller, more slender species that occurs in suitable habitats throughout the Old and New Worlds.

What makes the Great Egret special?

The Great Egret is the largest and most widespread Egret species in the world.

Is a Great Egret bigger than a Heron?

The Great Egret is bigger than many types of Herons, although it is smaller than large species like the Great Blue Heron and the Gray Heron.

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Other birds in the Herons, storks and ibises family

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