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Cattle egret, Ardea ibis

Breeding plumage in Cattle EgretPhoto copyright Steve Johnson
The name of the cosmopolitan Cattle Egret comes from its association with cattle. They are valued by farmers as they are an effective way of managing ectoparasites in livestock.


The Cattle Egret is a small (to 700mm), stocky white bird with a short neck and stout yellow-red bill. There is a marked variation in plumages during the breeding and non-breeding seasons.

The non-breeding adult has mainly white plumage, a yellow bill and greyish-yellow legs. During the breeding season it develops orange-buff plumes on the crown, neck and breast. The bill, legs and irises become bright red for a brief period prior to pairing.

The juveniles are similar to non-breeding adults.


The Cattle Egret occurs in grasslands, woodlands and wetlands. It also frequents pastures and croplands where it is often seen in association with cattle and other stock, feeding on the insects disturbed by the trampling of the animals and consuming the ticks of livestock in the absence of other food sources. It also forages at garbage dumps. 


The Cattle Egret feeds mostly on grasshoppers, other insects, centipedes, spiders, frogs,  skinks and even small mammals. It also feeds on ticks and flies off the backs of livestock. Its sharp bill is used in a lunging and stabbing manner.


Cattle Egret form monogamous pairs. They nest in colonies, usually near water and often with other waterbirds.  The nest is a shallow platform of sticks in trees or shrubs, usually as high up as possible. 3-6 pale blue eggs are laid. Both parents build the nest and incubate the eggs, with one brood per season being raised.


A quiet, throaty "rick-rack" call at the breeding colony, but is otherwise largely silent.


Distribution Map courtesy Natural Values Atlas, data from theLIST
© 2010 State of Tasmania
Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, the Cattle Egret has undergone one of the most rapid and wide reaching natural expansions of any bird species. Land clearing and the provision of water for stock in dry areas have favoured the expansion of the Cattle Egret's range.

Birds in Australia originate from Asia. In Australia, colonisation began in the 1940s, with the species now widespread and common in north-eastern Western Australia across the Top End, Northern Territory, and in south-eastern Australia from Bundaberg, Queensland to Port Augusta, South Australia.

It is a common and regular visitor to Tasmania, mainly in autumn and winter. it can be seen in the Tamar River, North-east pasture lands, Moulting Lagoon and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.