Until I decided to write about this bird for today’s post, I did not know there were so many different Egrets, although I did wonder when I saw my first Cattle Egret and asked my farmer neighbor what it was.
“An Egret,” he said.
Hmmm, I thought. Didn’t look like the Egrets I saw in the zoo. But I wasn’t about to challenge my neighbor. I was the newcomer to these parts and I knew my place.
Now I also know more about Egrets.
The Great Egret is a large bird with all-white plumage that can weigh about 2 pounds and has a wingspan of five and a half feet to seven feet. It is a bit smaller than the Great Blue or Grey Heron, but it does belong in the Heron family. Apart from size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet. Males and females are identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults. The Great Egret is not normally a vocal bird; at breeding colonies, however, it often gives a loud croaking cuk cuk cuk.
The Snowy Egret is about half the size of the Great with shorter black legs and distinctive orange feet. Both species sport elaborate head, chest and back (red) plumes during mating season, their bills and lores turn reddish and their feet orange. Snowies eat crustaceans, fish and insects.
Cattle Egrets are smaller than Snow Egrets and have orange-brown patches on their head, back and breast, yellowish legs and feet. They “walk like Egyptians,” with a characteristic head dart at each step like many smaller birds, and they eat insects, but do not always hang out with cows. Although the ones I see here, do.
This is a picture I took of the egrets lunching with the cattle in the hay meadow across from my place.