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.
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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).
feathers are all white. During mating season, long feathery breeding plumage
grows from its back, called ‘aigrettes’.
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.
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
3. Ardea alba melanorhynchos – found in Africa
4. Ardea alba modesta (the eastern great
egret) – found in India, Southeast Asia, and Oceania
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.
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
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’.
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
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.
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.
These carnivorous birds are
specially adapted with long legs for the purpose of wading.
The long, sharp bill of
these animals are designed for grasping and spearing slippery aquatic prey.
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.
Considering their static growth in population, the IUCN 3.2
has enlisted them as ‘LC’ (Least Concern).
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.