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Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis)

By C.M.Shorter
Florida Everglades
Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret
Pictures of Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are members of the Egret family of wading birds. This species of Egret has a shorter 19"-21" average body length and a heavier build than the Common Egret. Cattle Egrets can be easily distinguished by their yellow bills and light yellow-orange legs & feet. Frequently found living and breeding near farmland and pastures, particularly with herds of cows, hence their common name given of "Cattle Egrets". Find open pastureland with cattle & other livestock within the Cattle Egret's territory and there you will find Cattle Egrets. These Egrets are often seen actually riding on the backs of these herd animals.


The cows and other host livestock don't seem to mind as Cattle Egrets make a significant part of their diet horseflies and other nuisance parasitic bugs that plague these hooved mammals. They also filter through the animal droppings eating grubs, worms, beetles and larvae. Many times you can see Cattle Egrets following along behind heavy farm equipment to take advantage of the farm plow and cutting cycles to feed on bugs & worms found in the newly turned soil.

These birds are also frequently seen foraging along the sides of highways, waterways and large secluded areas such as air strips throughout their range. Having very few natural predators the species is not considered threatened but like so many animals today, populations are vulnerable due to habitat destruction.

Cattle Egrets originated in Africa and have a wide migratory distribution pattern throughout the world. Living in large colonies, Cattle Egrets can be found both feeding and nesting together in large groups. Often one can witness several hundred birds taking up residence in a single tree. Also called the Buff-Backed Heron, Cattle Egrets display a buff to reddish tone on their crown, breasts and back feathers during mating season. As with the Common Egret, males gather nesting material but it is the females who construct the nest. The female Cattle Egret lays an average of 2-6 eggs with an incubation period of 3-4 weeks. Chicks can be aggressive when competing for food and often only the larger, stronger of the brood survives.

Although Cattle Egret populations are not endangered they are protected in many countries traveling across six major continents. Because Cattle Egrets are so prolific and excellent at adapting to many environments, introduction of this species to Hawaii in the early 1950s is accountable for a decrease in native Hawaiian wetland birds.

More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
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