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5

Cattle Egret

(Bubulcus ibis)
Alternate name(s): "Eastern Cattle Egret"
Size: 48-53 cm; wing span 88-96 cm
Weight: 270-510 g

Similar
species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Cattle Egret at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Race "ibis"

This race is also called the "Western Cattle Egret". Photos were taken in Europe

Race "coromandus"

This race is also called the "Eastern Cattle Egret". Some authorities treat it as a separate species, "Bubulcus coromandus" or "Ardea coromanda".

ADULT

BREEDING

PAIR

Pair of Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage mating on their nest; in this case the sexes are known... (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Sex unknown

With nuptial flush

Comparative portraits of Cattle Egrets with normal breeding plumage and colours, left, and nuptial flush, during which irises, base of the bill and orbital ring (sometimes also the legs) turn reddish to purple, right; the nuptial flush remains for a period of only about a week
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2017]

Near-lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage looking sideways - note, in addition, the nuptial flush, i.e. reddish iris and base of the bill and the pinkish orbital ring, all of which are seen only during a short period prior to egg-laying
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2017]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage with nuptial flush (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage with nuptial flush (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage with nuptial flush (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Near-dorsal view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage with nuptial flush (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Without nuptial flush

Frontal view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Close-up near-frontal view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Near-frontal view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage studying the observer
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2017]

Near-frontal view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage looking sideways (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Near-frontal view of a Cattle Egret spreading its wings; in the background a pair of nesting Australian White Ibises
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2011]

Close-up lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2017]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage ready for take-off
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2017]

Near-dorsal view of a Cattle Egret (photo courtesy of M. & B. Midkiff)
[Minden, QLD, November 2013]

Near-dorsal view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret doing what its name says it's got to do...
[Near Narrabri, NSW, January 2011]

Dorsal view of a Cattle Egret "hitching a ride"
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2013]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret moulting into its breeding plumage
[Near Narrabri, NSW, September 2011]

Near-lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage in flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2011]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage in flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, December 2010]

Lateral view of part of a flock of Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage in low flight above a cattle paddock
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2019]

NON-BREEDING

Close-up near-frontal view of a Cattle Egret in non-breeding plumage in flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, March 2012]

Ventral view of a Cattle Egret in non-breeding plumage
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2012]

Lateral view of a small flock of Cattle Egrets in non-breeding plumage arriving at a fresh water lake
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, December 2010]

Comparison of the relative sizes of a Cattle Egret (centre), a Great Egret (left) and an Plumed Egret (right); all of them are searching for nesting material under a tree after a violent storm
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, December 2010]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Lateral/near-dorsal view of two (probably young) Cattle Egrets - one hunched, one upright
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, March 2012]

Dorsal view of a fledgling Cattle Egret looking sideways
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, February 2013]

Near-dorsal view of a fledgling Cattle Egret that still had problems taking off from the ground
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, February 2013]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Sep - Oct Eggs: 3 - 6 Incubation period: 25 days Fledging age: 42 days

The breeding season depends significantly on geographical latitude. In the tropical north Cattle Egrets breed Mar - May. They breed in colonies, together with other aquatic birds.

Cattle Egrets starting to moult into their breeding plumage
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2011]

Nest

"bungobittah", "lar", "malunna", "jindi" [bundjalung] = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Basket Material: Sticks, lined with leaves Height above ground: 3 - 15 m

Cattle Egrets nest in trees along the banks of freshwater courses, fresh water lakes or dams.

Cattle Egrets have been seen by us nesting, together with other aquatic birds, at Narrabri Lake during the breeding season of 2008/09 and most years since then. Until at least 2023, this is the only known location where Cattle Egrets breed regularly in inland NSW.

Close-up view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage on its nest (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Close-up view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage on its nest, with its partner, with nuptial flush, in attendance
(photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Arkarra Lagoons, Hervey Bay, QLD, November 2023]

Close-up view of a Cattle Egret nest
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2017]

Close-up frontal view of a Cattle Egret on its nest (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Frontal view of a Cattle Egret on its nest
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2011]

Near-fledging age Cattle Egret chicks in their nest (photo courtesy of V. Collins)
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, January 2021]

Cattle Egret with two chicks in its nest (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Cattle Egret with two chicks in its nest - THAT is an umbrella... (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Lateral view of Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage on their nests
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2014]

Example of colonial nesting by Cattle Egrets
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2011]

Cut-out of a larger photo showing part of a breeding colony of Cattle Egrets
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2014]

Lateral view of a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage carrying nesting material
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, October 2010]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "mirk", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena", "pum-pum" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 49 x 34 mm Colour: Light blue Shape: Long elliptical

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Communal Mobility: Migratory Elementary unit: Flock

As their name already suggests, Cattle Egrets follow cattle in order to pick off animals that are disturbed in tall grass.

Small mob of Cattle Egrets feeding together
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2011]

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage with a "funky haircut" (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Pair of Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage with a "funky haircut" (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Pair of Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage with offspring that go to the same hairdresser... (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Food, Diet

All egrets and herons prey on aquatic creatures in fresh water or estuaries (fish, frogs, snakes or crustaceans). Cattle Egrets specialise in small prey, including large insects, that is disturbed by large mammals, but will hunt without "aid" as well.

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage on the hunt (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage on the hunt (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, December 2017]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

categrt_jp_20200424.m4a ibis
(Portugal)
? © JP
 
categrt_20171124_3.m4a coromanda
(NW NSW)
Warning calls © MD
categrt_20171124_5.m4a coromanda
(NW NSW)
Squabbling © MD
categrt_20171124.m4a coromanda
(NW NSW)
Squabbling © MD
categrt_20171124_2.m4a coromanda
(NW NSW)
Various (breeding colony) © MD
categrt_20171124_6.m4a coromanda
(NW NSW)
? © MD
categrt_20171124_7.m4a coromanda
(NW NSW)
? © MD

More (Eastern) Cattle Egret sound recordings are available at xeno-canto.org .

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

Would you like to contribute photos or sound recordings to this site?
If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.