Sunday, December 30, 2007

Great Egret--Ardea alba

Great Egret wading through the water at Bolsa Chica.

I have always liked to watch Great Egrets hunt for fish. They are patient predators. They remind me of a cat or snake as they stay almost motionless and then suddenly strike. The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron or egret in Orange County. The Great Egret comes in a close second. Great Egrets live an average of about 15 years.

Great Egret hunting in the pickleweed at Bolsa Chica.

Although we think of the Great Egret as a water bird, it also hunts on land in marshes and fields near water. Great Egrets eat fish, frogs, crayfish, aquatic and other insects, mice, gophers, and snakes. The Animal Diversity website calls them "opportunistic predators." They will eat what they can.

Great Egret at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley. Unlike the smaller Snowy Egret, the Great Egret has an orange bill.

Great Egrets are at home in marshes, community parks, regional parks, and anywhere they can find food to eat. Though not that comfortable around people, they will endure them being around if the food source is attractive enough. I have often seen Great Egrets standing on the shore of lakes almost shoulder to shoulder with fishermen. Great Egrets are not above trying to take fish from other birds. No other birds get too aggressive with a Great Egret. In fact the adult Great Egret doesn't have much to fear from nonhuman species. There are many laws that protect the Great Egret and other birds.

Among the reeds at Huntington Central Park.

There was a time when Great Egrets were hunted to near extinction just for ladies' hats and clothing. However, today we are more aware and have laws that protect birds like the Great Egret. Consequently Great Egrets have rebounded. They are graceful and beautiful birds, and we are blessed to have so many in Orange County. Great Egrets are large, white birds with an orange bill and black legs.

Flying away at Bolsa Chica.

Although Great Egrets will eat insects, reptiles, and rodents, these beautiful birds are not usually found far from water. I often see them in Bolsa Chica, Newport Back Bay, Huntington Central Park, and other regional or community parks with stocked lakes and streams. On private property, if you have stocked lakes, ponds, or streams, you will have Great Egrets from time to time.

Great Egret--Reflections

There are many beautiful scenes one can photograph with Great Egrets. They are so still that it is easy to photograph them.

Great Egret, left and the much smaller Snowy Egret on the right. Not mommy and baby, but two different species.

Great Egrets hang out with other Great Egrets, or with Great Blue Herons or Snowy Egrets. On rare occasions I see a Green Heron or a Black-crowned Night Heron nearby, but usually it is the Snowy and the Great Blue Egret. When you are out birding the OC, look for the graceful white bird that strikes its prey faster than you can blink. Then stick around and just watch one of the most beautiful and graceful birds in Orange County, California.

Great Egret Fishing at Bolsa Chica in high breeding plumage.

Average sizes of Herons and Egrets in Orange County--does not include leg length which can make a difference:

Great Blue Heron Length 46" Wing Span 72"

Great Egret Length 39" Wing Span 51"

Snowy Egret Length 24" Wing Span 41"

Cattle Egret Length 20" Wing Span 36"

Green Egret Length 18" Wing Span 26"

Black-Crowned Night Heron Length 25" Wing Span 44"

Great Egret Flying at Bolsa Chica

OC Birder Girl Links of Interest

Herons and Egrets

Black-crowned Night Heron--Nycticorax nycticorax

Great Blue Heron--Ardea herodias

Reddish Egret--A Rare Bird

Snowy Egret--Egretta thula

The Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns of Orange County

Great Egret strutting at Bolsa Chica.

Places to See Egrets

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Central Park in Huntington Beach

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay

Great Egret fishing in high breeding Plumage. Notice the black on the upper part of his beak, and the green lores. This is at Bolsa Chica.

External Links

All About Birds: Great Egret Ardea alba

Good Article about the Great Egret. Maps, facts, photographs, and more.

USGS: Great Egret

Good short article.

Animal Diversity Web: Great Egret

Usual excellent article with lots of details about the Great Egret including maps, facts, diet, habits, habitat, conservation, and more.

National Geographic: Great Egret

Good Article, maps, facts, video, sound. Lots of information. Wall paper available.

Nature Works: Great Egret

Pictures, facts, and more.

Great Egret Takes a Stroll Down the Path from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

Home - Index - Contact - Shop


Anonymous said...

We have a family of Egrets in the Aliso Creek, Lake Forest. They look like the Great Egrets you have in your photos. Much debate on - What exactly makes this bird an egret and not a heron?

Anonymous said...

I would send to you a photo of the egret standing over my pond in Lake Forest, CA but I do not know how to.

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Originally, from what I understand, egrets referred to birds of the Ardeidae family who were white--especially with plumes. Herons referred to darker members of this family. However, over the years, we have discovered that many species have white and darker forms and so the color difference is a red herring so to speak. So short answer is that there really is no difference between herons and egrets. Ardeidae are Ardeidae.

Orange County Birder Girl said...

To send a picture, send a link. You can sign up for a free Picasso account through Google and post pictures at

or at Flickr at this URL

Then just send me the link. I will publish your comment with or without the link--your choice and let you know what I think about the egrets/herons in your pond.

Orange County Birder Girl said...


Yes, that is a Great Egret. They do love fish. I remember when I lived at an apartment complex with creeks filled with crayfish, koi and other fish, it was like a buffet for herons and egrets. Here is one article about dealing with wildlife eating your koi

Other articles are on the web by searching for "egrets and koi pond." (The "cow birds" the author refers to are most likely Cattle Egrets which are a totally different species from Great Egrets.) It sounds like you are doing what you can to protect your koi. Koi ponds are beautiful. I hope you succeed in defending yours. Good luck, Annette.

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Also, funny you should mention the Great Egret walking on the bike path. Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons are two birds I frequently see taking walks down paths at nature reserves and sanctuaries. I just embeded a video I took at Bolsa Chica of a Great Egret taking a walk along a path at Bolsa Chica. Check it out.

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Here is the comment about the egret I was answering above:
Thank you for explaining Ardeidae.
(photo link deleted for privacy)

The bird is standing on the wall above my koi pond. fortunately I have netting over the pond and all this visitor did was stand there and most likely plan its attack for dinner.

Just yesterday I saw similar bird walking on the bike path along Aliso Creek!


Orange County Birder Girl said...

Here is another comment from the same person: "PS - Cool video of egret!
Glad I found your site. Now I can find the names of local birds. My family is tired of hearing me call every little bird I see as finches, sparrows or orioles!
I like knowing the netting I keep on the ponds will keep these long legged creatures out!"