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5

Great Egret

(Ardea alba [modesta])
Alternate name(s): "Egret*", "Large Egret", "White Egret", "Eastern Great Egret", "White Crane*"
Aboriginal name(s): "moolpa"

Size: 0.85-1.05 m; wing span 1.45-1.65 m
Weight: 0.7-1.5 kg (1.0 kg average)

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 Great Egret at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Race "modesta"

Not the photos you want? Or are you after even better quality? Have a look here .

ADULT

BREEDING

Full-frontal view of a Great Egret in breeding plumage
[Hunter Wetlands NP, Newcastle, NSW, December 2016]

Near-frontal view of a Great Egret in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Wivenhoe Dam, QLD, December 2011]

Near-lateral view of a Great Egret in breeding plumage stalking its prey
[Hunter Wetlands NP, Newcastle, NSW, December 2016]

Lateral view of a Great Egret in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Salter Point, Canning River, Perth, January 2017]

Dorsal view of a Great Egret in breeding plumage; note also the colour of the bill
[Near Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

Great Egret in breeding plumage (left), together with a Cattle Egret (centre) and an Intermediate Egret (right); all of them are searching for nesting material under a tree after a violent storm
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, December 2010]

Portrait of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage; the tip of the bill is just turning dark at the start of the breeding season
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2010]

NON-BREEDING

Lateral view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage in a wetland (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)

Lateral view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage
[Narrabri, NSW, September 2007]

Lateral view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage hunting in reeds (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA, December 2014]

Near-dorsal view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage, with just a few whisps of its breeding plumage emerging (photo courtesy of S. Kirkby)

Dorsal view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2010]

Two Great Egrets on a tiny island in a shallow ephemeral wetland in the middle of otherwise dry woodland
[Near Narrabri, NSW, April 2014]

Great Egret in non-breeding plumage just after takeoff (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)

Lateral view of an Great Egret in non-breeding plumage in flight, with its neck kinked in the way typical of herons and egrets; here the wings are down
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, March 2012]

Lateral view of an Great Egret in non-breeding plumage in flight; sometimes the feathers can look a bit dirty brown (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA, January 2015]

Lateral view of an Great Egret in non-breeding plumage in flight, with its neck kinked in the way typical of herons and egrets, now with the wings in the "up" phase
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, March 2012]

Lateral view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage in flight, looking a bit like a ballerina...
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, April 2013]

Lateral view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage in flight, exhibiting very clearly the distinctive kink of its long neck
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, April 2013]

Great Egret in flight, seen from underneath
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, December 2010]

Near-lateral view of a Great Egret in flight
[Near Moree, NSW, June 2013]

Lateral view of a Great Egret in flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2011]

Great Egret in breeding plumage hovering in high wind
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, December 2010]

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

Dorsal view of a Great Egret in non-breeding plumage in flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, April 2013]

Great Egret in flight, with its head down by its dangling feet...
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2012]

A whole array of aquatic birds hunting/foraging in O'Brien's Creek at Narrabri, NSW: three White-necked Herons, two Australian White Ibis in breeding plumage, two Great Egrets, one Purple Swamphen, one Dusky Moorhen and two Pacific Black Ducks
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2011]

Here a Great Egret in flight (front left), together with an Intermediate Egret in the background; the main distinction between the two is in the lores, which extend to behind the eye for the Great Egret, but not for the Intermediate Egret
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2010]

Race "alba"

Photos of race "alba" were obtained in Oman.

Breeding information

Breeding season: Oct - May Eggs: 2 - 5 Incubation period: 25 - 26 days Fledging age: 60 days

The breeding season depends significantly on geographical latitude. In the tropical north Great Egrets breed Mar - May, which is late in the wet season. Given the right conditions Great Egrets can breed any time of the year. They breed in colonies, together with other aquatic birds. Their nests are usually the ones at the very tops of trees, with other species nesting lower.

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Basket Material: Sticks Height above ground: 10 - 30 m

Seen nesting, together with other aquatic birds, along the shores of Narrabri Lake during the breeding season of 2008 and subsequent years.

Near-frontal view of a Great Egret standing on its nest
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2011]

Eggs

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

Size: 52 x 36 mm Colour: Light blue Shape: Tapered oval

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Communal Mobility: Dispersive Elementary unit: Pair/flock

At the end of the breeding season, in the period of dispersal, Great Egret can sometimes be seen travelling in small groups (photo courtesy of K. White)
[St Georges Basin, NSW, April 2016]

Additional information

Click here to see a male Great Egret's display to woo a female.

Although there is no chance of not being seen, this Great Egret seems to be using the "cryptic" posture, which is normally used by birds with camouflage colours ("cryptic plumage"), e.g. to resemble a dead branch
[Near Narrabri, NSW, April 2014]

While some bird species prefer perches always at roughly the same height, Great Egrets show flexibility. Note that they do not hunt from these positions; hunting is done by stalking prey in shallow water, as shown below. Most of the photos shown in this section were taken at Narrabri Lake.

Great Egret on its lookout high up in a dead tree
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, July 2010]

Sometimes Great Egrets can be found in small trees overlooking watercourses
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, May 2012]

Great Egret emerging from a temporarily flooded roadside ditch
[Near Moree, NSW, June 2013]

Great Egret low on reeds, just above the waterline
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, June 2012]

Great Egrets usually have a preference for fresh or brackish water, but they can also be found hunting in saltwater.

Dorsal view of a Great Egret hunting in the surf of the Arafura Sea
[Lee Point, Darwin, NT, August 2014]

Great Egret hunting flying along the coastline of the Arafura Sea
[Lee Point, Darwin, NT, August 2014]

Food, Diet

All egrets and herons prey on aquatic creatures in fresh water or estuaries (fish, frogs, snakes or crustaceans). Great Egrets will take any of those.

Near-lateral view of a Great Egret in breeding plumage with its prey
[Hunter Wetlands NP, Newcastle, NSW, December 2016]

Great Egret with its prey - albeit a bit ambitious
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2010]

Great Egret hunting in shallow water; the last jab has missed its target
[Rockhampton, QLD, July 2009]

Great Egret hunting at the foot of a cascade...
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2010]

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.

We will try to replace this poor recording with a better one as soon as possible.

gregret_20150327.mp3 (N NSW) Warning/departure © MD

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.

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