Great Egret

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Common Name: Great Egret
Scientific Name: Ardea alba (aka Casmerodius albus)

Size: 39 inches (99 cm)

Habitat: Worldwide; distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world, in southern Europe and Asia it is localized. In North America it is more widely distributed uniformly across the sun belt states in the Unites States. The Great Egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with cold winters. It is found in inland wetlands, ponds and coastal marshes.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 590,000 - 2,200,000. Although Egrets are generally a very successful species with a large and expanding range, the Great Egret is highly endangered in New Zealand, with only one breeding site at Okarito Lagoon. 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.

Great Egrets are protected under Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Act, also in the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and in the Americas under the Neotropical Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Diet: Fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally small birds and reptiles. It hunts in shallow water, spearing them with its long, sharp bill. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.

Nesting: During the breeding season, the Great Egret’s bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. Males and females are identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults.

It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest.

Cool Facts: The Great Egret in flight was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society in 1953, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers.

The Great Egret is also known as the Great White Egret, Common Egret or White Heron. It is called kōtuku in New Zealand.

It is sometimes confused with the Great White Heron in Florida, which is a white morph of the closely related Great Blue Heron. There are four subspecies in various parts of the world, which differ but little. Differences are bare part coloration in the breeding season and size; the largest subspecies is Ardea alba ssp. modesta.

  • Ardea alba ssp. alba from Europe
  • Ardea alba ssp. egretta from Americas
  • Ardea alba ssp. melanorhynchos from Africa
  • Ardea alba ssp. modesta from Asia and Australasia

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume I

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