Great Egret

The Great Egret is a species of milky white herons found in several tropical and temperate regions across all the continents except Australia. They are found foraging for fish in the quiet waters in the wild, and are known in various names like common egret, large egret, great white egret, and great white heron.

Great Egret Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Pelecaniformes
Ardeidae
Ardea
Ardea alba

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Great Egret

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Pelecaniformes
Ardeidae
Ardea
Ardea alba

Physical Description

Size: They stand up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, with a measurement of 80 to 104 cm (31 to 41 in) by length and a wingspan of 131 to 170 cm (52 to 67 in).

Weight: The body mass can vary between age and the sexes, ranging between 700 and 1,500 g (1.5 and 3.3 lb), and averaging to around 1,000 g (2.2 lb).

Plumage: Their feathers are all white. During mating season, long feathery breeding plumage grows from its back, called ‘aigrettes’.

Great Egret

Body: They can be differentiated from other white egrets (like the snowy egret or the great blue heron) from their characteristic yellow bill (beaks) in front of their elongated heads, as well as their black legs and feet with long fingers.

Sexual Dimorphism: Males and females look alike, except that the males are a little larger.

Lifespan

The average of this bird in the wild is 15 years, whereas, in captivity, they have been seen living for up to 22.

Classification of Species by Distribution

With minor physical differences, the great egrets have four known subspecies depending on their ranges:

1. Ardea alba alba (nominate species) – found in Europe

2. Ardea alba egretta – found in the Americas

3. Ardea alba melanorhynchos – found in Africa

4. Ardea alba modesta (the eastern great egret) – found in India, Southeast Asia, and Oceania

Habitat

Great egrets are found in a wide variety of aquatic habitats including lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, estuaries, marsh, swamps, bogs, and coastal and brackish waters.

Great Egret Habitat
Great Egret Image

Behavioral Characteristics

These aquatic birds are highly territorial especially during the time of feeding, nesting and courtship. They are diurnal in nature, foraging for food all day, while at dusk they flock together at one place from surrounding areas, forming communal roosts.

However, after breeding, they often disperse and join the group, often accompanied by young birds, leaving out on long journeys. Like many heron species, they snatch or rob away food from other heron species, and in fact, they rob a rather higher percentage of food from other species of small herons.

Great white egrets also fight for food within their own community that can reach the level of aggression. These herons, however, have been seen to behave highly aggressive in many other situations even when food is available.

They migrate by day in small flocks and communicate by means of sounds and calls, e.g. while defending territories they may emit harsh squawks, or before courtship, they give out a low ‘corr’.

Great Egret Beak
Great White Egret

Diet

Being primarily piscivore, they mostly consume various species of fish. However, they would also eat small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and aquatic crustaceans.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

This bird displays seasonal monogamous behavior. The males of the species select a territory and exhibit a series of mating rituals in order to attract a female for copulation. The cat of mating takes place within the territory of the male.

Great white egrets typically build their nests with other species of herons within a colony in swaps and wooded wetlands. Their homes are rather shabby being made of twigs, stems, and sticks, and on the treetops, as high as possible.

Great Egret Eggs
Great Egret Nest

The eggs are a light greenish blue in color. Both the father and the mother take turn incubating them for around 23 to 24 days. The offspring, once hatched, normally fledge within 2 to 3 weeks.

While the clutch size is 3 to 4, their breeding season begins around the mid of April. These birds have the ability to reproduce after two years and can raise one brood each year. The average age of sexual maturity of the young birds is about two years.

Adaptations

  1. Since these birds live in a mixed community, there is a high possibility of the eggs being damaged. In such cases, the females can lay replacement eggs.
  2. These carnivorous birds are specially adapted with long legs for the purpose of wading.
  3. The long, sharp bill of these animals are designed for grasping and spearing slippery aquatic prey.
Great Egret Feathers
Great Egret Picture

Predators

The great egrets do not have any non-human predators, except for their eggs (or sometimes the young juveniles and chicks) that are sometimes predated by jays, crows, vultures, and raccoons.

Conservation Status

Considering their static growth in population, the IUCN 3.2 has enlisted them as ‘LC’ (Least Concern).

Great White Egret in Flight
Great Egret Flying

Interesting Facts

  • The bird is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
  • In the early 20th century, their long feathers were extensively used on ladies hats, and thus, the bird was almost hunted into extinction.
  • The great white egret has been depicted in several currency notes and coins in different countries like Belarus, Brazil, New Zealand, and Hungary.
  • The name of Shariputra, one of the Buddha’s primary followers, possibly means “the son of the egret”, according to many researchers of the ancient Buddhist texts, since his mother is said to have had eyes like that of a great egret.

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