Cattle Egret courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Cattle Egret is commonly described as appearing "hunched." You can see why above.
Although the Cattle Egret is not a water bird or shore bird, it can be found near ponds or in wetlands. It is a bird that primarily likes pastures and fields with cattle, other domestic and wild animals, tractors, and lawn mowers that stir up its favorite food--insects. They also will stand outside a fire and catch the insects escaping the fire. Cattle Egrets also eat spiders, frogs, earthworms, eggs, and small birds. They are more often seen in agricultural areas. I used to see them more in Orange County in the fields and in the freeway on ramps and off ramps in the grass. I have seen them within the last year in Riverside County out near San Jacinto.
Cattle Egrets are small white egrets with an orange bill, and black legs. In breeding plumage, they have a dusting of color from buff to orange. Although about the same size as a Snowy Egret, the Snowy has a more slender bill, yellow feet, and a black bill. So if it is small and a little stocky with an Orange Bill and no yellow feet, you can bet it is a Cattle Egret. The immature has a black bill--that is why location and build are important things to note.
It is not a native bird, but an immigrant. In the 1870s, it flew across from Africa and Asia to South America and moved northward. It reached the United States in the 1940s during World War II. It began breeding in California in 1979, though they reached the West Coast over a decade earlier. At the present time it has moved as far north as Canada and Alaska. I even saw it in Hawaii in the late 1990s. It was introduced there. Numbers vary greatly from year to year.
Cattle Egrets wait for escaping insects at the edge of a fire in Tanzania. Entitled "Fresh Toasted Bugs."
Cattle Egrets nest in colonies with other Cattle Egrets and other wading birds. They are monogamous for a season. They are the ultimate recyclers, and reuse nests. Nests are built of plant materials. The nest is a competitive place with the chicks vying for food with one another.
So when you are out birding Orange County and see a small white egret, check the bill and the build. Especially if it is in a field. You just might get lucky and see a Cattle Egret in Orange County.
OC Birder Girl Links
Black-crowned Night Heron--Nycticorax nycticorax
Great Blue Heron--Ardea herodias
Great Egret--Ardea alba
Green Heron--Butorides virescens
Reddish Egret--A Rare Bird
Snowy Egret--Egretta thula
External Links and Resources
Detailed page on the Cattle Egret.
Detailed and thorough article about the Cattle Egret.
Helpful article from the Seattle Audubon Society.
Great picture of a Cattle Egret with an insect.
Nice article with picture of Cattle Egret.
Good Short piece on the Cattle Egret.
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