The Cattle Egret is a stocky heron with an 88-96 cm (35-38 in) wingspan; it is 46-56 cm (18-22 in) long and weighs 270-512 g. It has a relatively short thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. The non-breeding adult has mainly white plumage, a yellow bill and greyish-yellow legs. During the breeding season, adults of the nominate western subspecies develop orange-buff plumes on the back, breast and crown, and the bill, legs and irises become bright red for a brief period. The sexes are similar, but the male is larger and has slightly longer breeding plumes than the female; juvenile birds lack coloured plumes and have a black bill.

Habitat and Distribution

This bird was originally native to parts of Southern Spain and Portugal, tropical and subtropical Africa and humid tropical and subtropical Asia. It has expanded into southern Africa, breeding in the Cape Province. Cattle Egrets have been sighted in the Americas on the boundary of Guiana and Suriname. They have occured in most of Europe. Their habitat includes woodland, near lakes or rivers, swamps, or on small inland or coastal islands, farmlands and rice paddies.


Cattle Egrets feed mainly on insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, and earthworms. They sometimes forage along the branches of a Banyan tree for ripe figs.


The breeding season varies within South Asia. Nesting in northern India begins with the onset of monsoons in May.In Australia its from November to early January, with one brood laid per season. In North American breeding lasts from April to October. The nest is a small untidy platform of sticks in a tree or shrub constructed by both parents. The clutch size is one to five, pale bluish-white eggs which are oval-shaped. Incubation lasts about 23 days.