Great Egret (ardea alba)

Great Egret

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] ardea alba | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Great Egret | [FR] Grande Aigrette | [DE] Silberreiher | [ES] Garza Blanca | [NL] Grote Zilverreiger


Monotypic species


Best known of the typical herons are the very large, long-legged and long-necked, plain-hued, crested members of the genus Ardea The species of the Ardeidae (heron) family are mainly tropical birds, but they have spread out all over the world and occupy all but extremely high latitudes and elevation. Most members of this almost worldwide group breed colonially in trees, building large stick nests. Northern species such as Great Blue, Grey and Purple Herons may migrate south in winter, although the first two do so only from areas where the waters freeze. These are powerful birds with large spear-like bills, long necks and long legs, which hunt by waiting motionless or stalking their prey in shallow water before seizing it with a sudden lunge. They have a slow steady flight, with the neck retracted as is characteristic of herons and bitterns; this distinguishes them from storks, cranes, and spoonbills, which extend their necks

Physical charateristics

The great egret is a large bird with white plumage, a long thin body, a yellow bill, and legs and feet that are glossy black. The sexes are similar in size, males being slightly heavier. Adults average 81 cm in length with a 140 cm wingspan and weigh between 2 and 2.5 kg. This heron is larger than any other except for the great blue heron. In flight, the great egret holds its neck in a more open S than do other white herons.

Listen to the sound of Great Egret

[audio: Egret.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 79 cm wingspan max.: 97 cm
size min.: 51 cm size max.: 58 cm
incubation min.: 25 days incubation max.: 26 days
fledging min.: 38 days fledging max.: 46 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 6  


North America, South America, Africa, Eurasia : NA, South America, Africa, Europe to Central Asia


The preferred habitat of great egrets is along freshwater and saltwater marshes, ponds,
streams, lakes, wooded swamps, mud flats, and urban environments


Great Egrets usually nest near water, in trees, shrubs, or thickets. They probably first breed at 2-3 years of age. Although isolated pairs are sometimes seen, colonies–often multi-species–are the norm. In multi-species colonies, the Great Egrets tend to nest higher than other species. The male selects the nest area where he displays to attract the female. Both sexes build the stick nest, and both help incubate the 3-4 eggs for 23-26 days. Both parents feed the young by regurgitation. At the age of three weeks, the young may begin to climb about the nest, but do not fledge until 6-7 weeks.

Feeding habits

Great egrets are standing motionless in the water waiting for their prey. Their diet primarily consists of aquatic invertebrates and fish. But, they are also known to eat reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. Great egrets forage very similarly to great blue herons; walking slowly through shallow water and snapping up prey as it crosses their path. Young are usually fed frogs, crayfish, and small fish that are regurgitated into their mouths by a parent

Video Great Egret


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern
Great Egret status Least Concern


Extensive post-breeding dispersal. Populations of Palearctic and Nearctic partially migratory with some dispersive movements; tropical populations sedentary. E Asian birds migrate to SE Asia and Philippines, whereas birds from rest of Palearctic move to Mediterranean, Middle East, Persian Gulf and Pakistan. Birds of E USA winter S along coast to Bahamas and West Indies; W birds move S towards California, Mexico and C America; populations of Mississippi Basin move S to Gulf coast. Australian populations generally dispersive, although some regular seasonal movements occur, which might be migratory; sometimes irruptive, e.g. moving from interior to coast during droughts; occasionally to New Zealand; New Zealand population. Vagrant to islands of subantarctic, Seychelles, Canary Is, N and C Europe; several recent records of race modesta in Europe.

Distribution map

Great Egret distribution range map


Title Natural Infection of a Great Egret (Casmerodius albus) with Eastern
Equine Encephalitis Virus
Author(s): Nicole L. Gottdenker et al
Abstract: In July 2001, a great egret (Casmerodius albus) wa..[more]..
Source: Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 39(3), 2003, pp. 702-706

download full text (pdf)

Title Water depth selection during foraging and efficiency in prey capture
by the egrets Casmerodius albus and Egretta thula (Aves, Ardeidae)
in an urban lagoon in Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil
Author(s): Aline B. Moreno, Adriano R. Lagos & Maria Alice S. Alves
Abstract: This study aimed to evaluate the water depth selec..[more]..
Source: Iheringia, S

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