Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis

48-53cm

Appearance

This is a white heron with a smaller, sturdier build than the Little Egret. The bill is shorter and yellow with a ruffle of feathers beneath it. Its legs are a dark grey-brown colour, it has a steep forehead, and a bulge in its throat. When in breeding season, an orange buff appears on the plumage, on the head, lower back and breast. When flying, the wings are wide and rounded, the neck tucked in.

Habitat

When in Europe it has a variety of habitats including ploughed land, rubbish dumps, airfields, marshes and river banks. In tropical areas it may follow the path of animals grazing, and in Britain it favours the grazing territories of cattle and sheep.

Character

Is away from water more regularly than many of its relatives, with a penchant for drier environments. It often dwells near to livestock, and will sit on the back of the farm animals (or wild game in places like Africa) and eats the insects from their coats. Often found in small groups and roosts in colonies.

Food

Eats mostly insects and amphibians. Diet includes grasshoppers, crickets, flies and butterfly and moth larvae, earthworms, frogs, toads and their tadpoles, lizards and fish.

Breeding

Female lays 4-5 eggs which are incubated in cooperation with the male for 24 days. Hatchlings eat regurgitated food; they leave the nest after 20 days, but dwell in nearby vegetation until they're able to fly at about 30 days old.

Population

A resident of southwest Europe, it is thought this bird originally occurred in the region as an accidental visitor. Spring and autumn herald its arrival and it favours the south-west parts of England and Ireland; numbers are increasing in Ireland and there have been more than 400 sightings in the UK over the past 60 years.

Observation Tips

These birds have a habit of staying in one place for days, even weeks, which increases the chance of observation.

Voice

Has a defensive croak and a 'raa' call when in breeding colonies.
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