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.
Young Great Egrets at their nest
Great Egret displaying
Great Egret hunting in wetlands
Great Egret in-flight with gathered nesting materials
Great Egret portrait
Great White Egret, Common Egret, Large Egret, Great White Heron
Family:Herons, storks and ibises
97cm to 104cm
140cm to 170cm
700g to 1.7kg
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 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 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 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).
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 Egrets occur in a variety of wetland environments, including both freshwater and tidal saltwater habitats. They occasionally hunt over dry fields and pastures.
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.
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.
Great Egrets are generally common and easy to spot in suitable habitats.
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.
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.
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
Great Egrets can live for over 22 years in the wild.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
It is unclear whether Great Egret pairs last more than a single season, although they are seasonally monogamous when nesting.
Nest of a Great Egret with two eggs
Great Egret parent at nest with chicks
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.
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 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.
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.
Great Egrets are widespread native migrants and breeding residents in North America, occurring from Panama in the south to southeastern Canada in the north.
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
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.
The Great Egret is the largest and most widespread Egret species in the world.
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.
Great Blue Heron
Poised to strike, the Great Blue Heron stalks along American waterways in search of fish and other small animals. These widespread waterbirds are among the tallest of North America’s birds.
The South American counterpart of North America’s great blue heron, Cocoi herons are long-legged wading birds, found in a range of wetland landscapes across the continent. They are carnivorous, foraging for large fish and crustaceans in shallow water.
A small member of the heron family, barely larger than a pigeon, the little bittern is an extremely rare breeding visitor to Britain, with only limited reports of the species in the UK since the first official record in 1984.
Once considered a rare vagrant to Britain, records of sightings of Purple Herons are increasing and occasional reports of breeding exist, although are difficult to substantiate.
Owners of some of the most specialised bills in the bird world, Spoonbills forage in small groups, methodically sweeping through the water in search of small aquatic creatures to snack on. Although rare, these unique birds are making a steady comeback in the United Kingdom.
Often thought of as a newcomer, the Little Egret is actually making a triumphant return to waterways around the UK.
A common but impressive waterbird, the Grey Heron can be seen along waterways throughout the United Kingdom. These tall birds use their remarkably long necks to spear their fish prey at range and with great speed.
Originating in Africa, the western Mediterranean and sub-tropical Asia, the cattle egret has expanded naturally over the last hundred years to South America in the late 1800’s and North America as recently as the early 1950’s. Australia recorded its first migrants in 1940 whilst New Zealand’s population of egrets was established as late as 1960.
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