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Wildlife and Invasive Species Education (WISE) Species Profile: The Great Egret

Common Name: Great Egret

Scientific Name: Ardea alba

Identification: The Great Egret is one of the most identifiable birds found around Florida. Great Egrets are a large white bird that can reach a height of about 3 ft.. Great Egrets have a long, yellowish/orange bill and long black legs. Like most herons, the neck is S-shaped and quite long. During the breeding season, Great Egrets develop long plumes called aigrettes. They also develop a green patch between the eye and beak, also called the lore.

Description: Great Egrets can be found in many different habitats, most often near water. They can be seen stalking the water’s edge near a pond or lake, roadside ditches, as well as brackish areas. It is not uncommon to see a Great Egret wandering around the shrubs in residential or commercial areas looking for food. Breeding can occur all year in Florida, but more commonly from May to August. Males demonstrate an impressive courting behavior to attract females. The male begins the nest and later when the female joins, they work together to complete it. Great Egrets nest high in the tree canopy, usually above water. Nest are made up of sticks and can be 3 ft. wide and 1 ft. deep. There may be 1-2 broods and may have between 3-4 bluish-green eggs. Eggs hatch in about 28-29 days and chicks fledge around 60 days. Both parents feed the young via regurgitation. Silicide does occur, where chicks fiercely compete and may kill weaker ones. Nesting can occur with similar species such as White Ibis, Anhinga’s and other herons.

Diet: The Great Egret is a silent and patient stalker. It will stand still and wait patiently to strike or it will slowly wade through the water hoping to grab its prey. The Great Egret is a generalist. It will feed on fish, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, and even other birds. Sometimes you may see Great Egrets sway their neck from side to side before striking.

Interesting Facts:

  • The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
  • Great Egret populations were decimated in the 1800’s. Egrets were hunted down for their aigrettes used to adorn the hats and other materials.
  • Great Egrets breed on all continents except Antarctica.

References: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Egret/overview

https://myfwc.com/media/19709/bba_greg.pdf

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-egret

Cover Photo Credit: Jim E. Davis