The great egret is a large heron with all-white plumage. Standing up to
1 m (3.3 ft) tall, this species can measure 80 to 104 cm (31 to 41 in) in length
and have a wingspan of 131 to 170 cm (52 to 67 in). Body mass can range
from 700 to 1,500 g (1.5 to 3.3 lb), with an average of around 1,000 g (2.2
lb). It is thus only slightly smaller than the great blue or grey heron (A.
cinerea). Apart from size, the great egret can be distinguished from other white
egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become
darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage,
delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. Males and females are
identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults. Differentiated
from the intermediate egret (Mesophoyx intermedius) by the gape, which extends
well beyond the back of the eye in case of the great egret, but ends just behind
the eye in case of the intermediate egret.
It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic
of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes, ibises, and
spoonbills, which extend their necks in flight. The great egret is not
normally a vocal bird; it gives a low hoarse croak when disturbed, and at
breeding colonies, it often gives a loud croaking cuk cuk cuk and higher-pitched
Like all egrets, it is a member of the heron family, Ardeidae.
Traditionally classified with the storks in the Ciconiiformes, the Ardeidae are
closer relatives of pelicans and belong in the Pelecaniformes instead. The great
egret—unlike the typical egrets—does not belong to the genus Egretta but
together with the great herons is today placed in Ardea. In the past, however,
it was sometimes placed in Egretta or separated in a monotypic genus
Ecology and status
The great egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds
moving south from areas with colder winters. It breeds in colonies in trees
close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a
bulky stick nest.
The great egret is generally a very successful species with
a large and expanding range. In North America, large numbers of great egrets
were killed around the end of the 19th century so that their plumes could be
used to decorate hats. Numbers have since recovered as a result of conservation
measures. Its range has expanded as far north as southern Canada. However, in
some parts of the southern United States, its numbers have declined due to
habitat loss. Nevertheless, it adapts well to human habitation and can be
readily seen near wetlands and bodies of water in urban and suburban areas. In
1953, the great egret in flight was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon
Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their
feathers. The great egret is one of the species to which the Agreement on the
Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
On 22 May 2012, it was announced a pair of great egrets were nesting in the
UK for the first time at the Shapwick Heath nature reserve in Somerset. The
species is a rare visitor to the UK and Ben Aviss of the BBC stated that the
news could mean the UK's first great egret colony is established. The following
week, Kevin Anderson of Natural England confirmed a great egret chick had
hatched, making it a new breeding bird record for the UK. Anderson commented
"We've definitely seen one chick stretching a wing just before the adult arrived
and also after it left and we continue to monitor for more. The eggs of the
great egret can hatch over a period of a few days so it may be that if there are
other young on the nest they will be less developed and won't be visible
Spearing a fish
The great egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats,
feeding mainly on fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally small reptiles
and insects, spearing them with its long, sharp bill most of the time by
standing still and allowing the prey to come within its striking distance of its
bill which it uses as a spear. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly
stalk its victim.
The great egret is depicted on the reverse side of a
5-Brazilian reais banknote.
White Egrets is the title of Saint Lucian poet Derek Walcott's
fourteenth collection of poems.
The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon
The great egret gives one of its synonyms, the White Heron, to a
pair of Support Aircraft which assist Kiryu in Godzilla Against
The name of venerable Shariputra, one of the Buddha's best known
followers, signifies the son of the egret (among other possibilities), it is
said that his mother had eyes like a great egret.
In Belarus, there is a commemorative coin with the image of a
The great egret also features on the New Zealand $2
Photos by John Spencer
Data by Wikipedia