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Great Egret


Great Egret

Great Egret - Breeding Plumage

Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes

Nearly hunted to extinction for its elegant plumes in the 1800s and early 1900s, the great egret is now the official symbol of the National Audubon Society. This beautiful wading bird can be found throughout the world, but now its plumage is more prized when seen through birding binoculars rather than on ladies’ hats.

Common Name:

Great Egret, Great White Egret, American Egret

Scientific Name:

Ardea alba


  • Bill: Yellow, straight, thick
  • Size: 38-40 inches long with 55-inch wingspan, long neck
  • Colors: White, black, yellow, lime green
  • Markings: Genders are similar with pure white plumage, black legs and feet and a thick yellow bill that may turn orange and will show a lime green base during the breeding season. Also in the breeding season these birds develop long, graceful plumes that drape down the back and over the rump. The neck is long and slim, and in flight is held in a tight S-curve.


Aquatic animals, fish, insects, amphibians, birds

Habitat and Migration:

Once heavily threatened, great egrets are now common in open wetland habitats such as marshes, streams, tidal flats, flooded fields, ponds, lakes and canals throughout the world. Their year-round range extends from the southeastern United States through South America and includes similar ranges in sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, India, southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia and Japan. During the summer, breeding ranges extend further north in the United States, Europe, northern Asia and Russia, and in winter these birds migrate to open water and coastal areas, though the degree of migration will vary based on the harshness of the winter.


These are gregarious birds with a low, raspy “kraaaaw” call and other low murmurs, growls, and caws used frequently near the nest or while feeding. Young birds have higher pitched begging calls.


Great egrets can be either solitary or colonial birds, and they frequently roost and nest in colonies with other wading birds such as herons and ibises. Unlike many wading birds that use stealth to hunt, great egrets are active foragers and may even hunt in flocks. They can also be aggressive, and even young birds have been known to attack weaker siblings.


Great egrets raise a single brood of 1-6 eggs per year. These are monogamous birds and a mated pair shares the incubation of the eggs for 24-26 days, and both parents will care for the young birds for a further 21 days until they are ready to leave the nest.

Attracting Great Egrets:

These are not backyard birds, but birders can encourage them to use appropriate habitat by conserving suitable wetlands and limiting the spread of invasive aquatic plants. Monitoring pollution and pesticide levels that may kill off fish and other food sources is also critical.

Similar Birds:

  • Great Blue Heron – White Morph (Ardea herodias)
  • Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
  • Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
  • Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Photo – Great Egret – Breeding Plumage © Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes
Photo – Great Egret in Flight © Mike Baird, flickr.bairdphotos.com

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