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Overview

Brief Summary

Ardea alba

With its long, white breeding plumes, orange-yellow bill, and green facial skin, the Great Egret at the height of the breeding season is stunning to behold. Even at other times of the year, when it loses its plumes and its face and bill return to their typical dull yellow, this large, white wader is difficult to overlook. Male and female Great Egrets are similar (38 inches) at all times of the year. The Great Egret is widely distributed across warmer parts of the globe. In North America, the Great Egret breeds primarily in the southeastern United States, with smaller pockets of breeding territory in the Great Plains, the northeast, and in the west. Most of the Great Egrets in the southeast are permanent residents, but those in cooler climates migrate south for the winter, where they may be found along the coast of California, in the southwest, and in Texas. This species also breeds in Eurasia from southern Europe east to east Asia, wintering in North Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Populations also exist in South America, Australia and New Zealand. Great Egrets live in and around small bodies of water. In summer, Great Egrets nest in colonies, called ‘rookeries,’ in trees surrounding lakes and ponds. This species utilizes similar habitats during the winter. Great Egrets mainly eat fish, but may also take crustaceans and small vertebrates (such as frogs, lizards, and mice) when the opportunity arises. Great Egrets may be best observed wading in shallow water, where they may be seen plunging their bills into the water to catch fish. It is also possible to see Great Egrets at their rookeries, especially when they return to roost at sunset, or while flying with their feet extended and their necks pulled in. Great Egrets are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least concern

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Comprehensive Description

Longueur 85-102 cm, envergure 140-170 cm, poids 960-1 680 g.

Elle habite les grandes zones humides de plaine, s’installant souvent dans les larges roselières épaisses et inaccessibles. Ses terrains de chasse comprennent les prairies humides ou sèches, marais, rizières, lacs et étangs.

La Grande Aigrette se nourrit surtout de poissons et d’insectes aquatiques lorsqu’elle peut pêcher, sinon de micromammifères et d’insectes terrestres. Elle peut s’attaquer également aux lézards, aux mollusques et aux jeunes oiseaux.

L’espèce chasse souvent seule ou en petits groupes éparpillés. Les rassemblements en période internuptiale comprennent parfois quelques dizaines d’individus. Le couple se forme au retour de printemps. Elle niche isolément ou en colonie. Après une période de vols d’observation autour de la colonie, les mâles commencent à défendre vigoureusement les sites de nid potentiels. Chacun construit de petites plates-formes qui servent de sites de parade. Les plumes scapulaires érectiles sont en évidence durant les parades.

Le nid est une pile de roseaux ou de branchettes garnie de matériaux plus fins, pouvant dépasser 1 m de diamètre. Il est construit dans une roselière inondée, dans un arbre ou un arbuste au-dessus de l’eau. Les nids arboricoles peuvent se toucher mais sont nettement espacés dans les roselières. La ponte unique de 3-5 œufs (extrêmes : 2-6) est déposée à partir d’avril. L’incubation dure 25-26 jours et les jeunes sont volants vers l’âge de 42 jours.

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Overall plumage is white, and, for most of the year, when not breeding, the bill and facial skin are yellow. The feet are dark olive-grey or sooty black, as are the legs. During the breeding season, the bill turns mostly black and the facial skin becomes green. Also at this time, long hair-like feathers (nuptial plumes) hang across the lower back, and the legs become pinkish-yellow at the top. Young Great Egrets are similar to the adults, but have a blackish tip to the bill.

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Distribution

Geographic Range

Great egrets are found in the Nearctic as far south as Texas, the Gulf coast states, and Florida up the Atlantic coast to Maine and southern Canada, and west to the Great Lakes.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: in North America locally from southern Oregon and southern Idaho south through California, Nevada, and southwestern Arizona, and from southeastern Saskatchewan, southwestern Manitoba, central Minnesota, southwestern Wisconsin, central Illinois, southern Indiana, southern Ontario, northern Ohio, Vermont (probably), and Maine south through the Gulf states (and west to eastern Colorado, southern New Mexico, and south-central Texas), along both coasts of Mexico (interior locally), and through the Bahamas, Antilles, Middle America, and South America to southern Chile and southern Argentina. Widespread also in Old World. NORTHERN WINTER: occurs regularly north to North Carolina, southern U.S, and California; south through breeding range to southern South America; also Old World. In the U.S., areas with the highest winter densities include the Chassahowitzka NWR on the Gulf coast of Florida, the Sabine NWR on the coast near the Louisiana-Texas border, the southern Colorado River near the Imperial and Cibola refuges, and Humboldt Bay NWR in northern California (Root 1988). Wanders irregularly outside usual range; a few times to Hawaii.

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Geographic Range

Great egrets are found in the Nearctic as far south as Texas, the Gulf coast states, and Florida up the Atlantic coast to Maine and southern Canada, and west to the Great Lakes.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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In the continental United States, A. alba ranges from Oregon, Wisconsin and Massachusetts south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and most of South America. Occurs lagoon-wide
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Subspecies and Distribution:


    *alba (Linnaeus, 1758) - C Europe to C Asia, S to Iran; winters N & C Africa and Persian Gulf to S China and S Korea. *modesta (J. E. Gray, 1831) - India, SE Asia, Japan and Korea S through Indonesia to Australia and New Zealand. *melanorhynchos (Wagler, 1827) - Africa S of Sahara, Madagascar. *egretta (Gmelin, 1789) - N, C & S America, from N USA to C Argentina.


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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Great egrets are less than 1 meter long from bill to tail, are about 1 meter tall, and have a wingspan of about 1.5 meters. They usually weigh between 912 and 1140 grams. Males tend to be larger than females. They are white with a long yellow bill and with dark grey legs.

Range mass: 912 to 1140 g.

Average length: 1 m.

Average wingspan: 1.5 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; ornamentation

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Physical Description

Great egrets are less then 1 meter long from bill to tail, 1 meter tall, have a wingspan of 1.5 meters, and weigh about 912 to 1140 g. On average, males are larger than females. They are completely white with a long yellow bill and dark gray legs. During flight their neck is usually in an “S” shaped curve. They are very elegant birds with plumage resembling lace.

Range mass: 912 to 1140 g.

Average length: 1 m.

Average wingspan: 1.5 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; ornamentation

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Size

Length: 99 cm

Weight: 935 grams

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A. alba is one of the largest heron species. It grows to a height of 32 inches, and has a wingspan of 55 inches.
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70-90 cm.

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Diagnostic Description

Differs from most other white herons in larger size (averages 23 cm longer than reddish egret, 38 cm longer than snowy egret), unicolored yellowish bill, and all-black legs and feet. Differs from the white form of the great blue heron in having black legs and feet (vs. yellowish).

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Overall plumage is white, and, for most of the year, when not breeding, the bill and facial skin are yellow. The feet are dark olive-grey or sooty black, as are the legs. During the breeding season, the bill turns mostly black and the facial skin becomes green. Also at this time, long hair-like feathers (nuptial plumes) hang across the lower back, and the legs become pinkish-yellow at the top. Young Great Egrets are similar to the adults, but have a blackish tip to the bill.

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Look Alikes

Can be confused with the white morph of the great blue heron (Ardea herodias), the "great white heron", which occurs only in southern Florida. The great egret's black legs and feet distinguish it from the great white heron, which has yellow legs. Species Description/Taxonomy:Ardea alba is a member of the Order Ciconiiformes (herons and storks) which encompasses the long-necked wading birds. The Family Ardeidae includes the herons, egrets, bitterns, etc. A. alba is a large heron whose body color is entirely white. The bill is thick and yellow, while the legs and feet of the animal are black. When in breeding plumage, the great egret can appear somewhat shaggy due to the fine, threadlike feathers which grow downwards along the neck and back.
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Marshes, swampy woods, tidal estuaries, lagoons, mangroves, streams, lakes, and ponds; also fields and meadows.

Nests primarily in tall trees, usually with other colonial water birds; in woods or thickets near water. See Spendelow and Patton (1988) for further details and information on geographic variation in nesting habitat. Returns to the same colony sites year after year.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour All populations of this species undergo post-breeding dispersive movements (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Populations breeding in the tropics are sedentary (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or partially migratory (in relation to rainfall) (Brown et al. 1982), whereas Palearctic and Nearctic populations are migratory (Flint et al. 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1992). The timing of the breeding season varies geographically (del Hoyo et al. 1992) although temperate breeders tend to nest in the spring and summer (e.g. April to July) and tropical breeders nest in the part of the rain cycle when food becomes maximally available (this may be during the rains or in the dry season) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). The species typically breeds in colonies of tens, hundreds or even a thousand pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005), sometimes with other species (e.g. 450 pairs in a mixed colony of over 3,000 nests in Australia) (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Some populations also show a tendency to breed solitarily or in small groups (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Outside of the breeding season the species may feed solitarily (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or in small loose groups (Marchant and Higgins 1990) (e.g. of 12-50 individuals) (Brown et al. 1982), although flocks of hundreds or more individuals may form where food is abundant (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The species is a diurnal feeder (del Hoyo et al. 1992) but is most active at dawn and dusk (although in coastal environments it feeding habits are determined by tidal stages) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), and roosts at night in trees (Brown et al. 1982) alongside lakes or rivers or in mangroves, often with other species (Langrand 1990). Habitat The species inhabits all kinds of inland and coastal wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1992) although it is mainly found along the coast in the winter (e.g. in the Palearctic Region) (Snow and Perrins 1998) or during droughts (e.g. in Australia) (Marchant and Higgins 1990). It frequents river margins, lakes shores, marshes, flood-plains (del Hoyo et al. 1992), oxbows, streams (Snow and Perrins 1998), damp meadows (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), rice-fields, drainage ditches (del Hoyo et al. 1992), aquaculture ponds, reservoirs (Marchant and Higgins 1990, Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and sewage works (Marchant and Higgins 1990, Hockey et al. 2005) inland, and the shallows of salt-lakes (Marchant and Higgins 1990), saltpans, mudflats, coastal swamps, mangroves (del Hoyo et al. 1992), saltmarshes, seagrass flats, offshore coral reefs, lagoons (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and estuaries when in coastal locations (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Diet In aquatic habitats its diet consists of fish, amphibians, snakes, aquatic insects and crustaceans although in drier habitats terrestrial insects, lizards, small birds and mammals are more commonly taken (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding site The nest is constructed from sticks (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and vegetation (Brown et al. 1982) and is normally positioned over water at a height of 1-15 m (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) in reedbeds, bamboos (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), bushes, trees (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. willow Salix spp.), mangroves (Hancock and Kushlan 1984) and other plants near water or on islands in sites that are protected from ground predators (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). The species usually nests colonially in single- or mixed-species groups where nests may be less than 1 m apart or touching, although they are usually placed more spread out in reedbeds (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Breeding pairs may also reuse nests from previous years (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Management information Breeding site conservation should include colony protection, control of disturbance and vegetation management, and the conservation of feeding areas should include the management of hydrology, salt intrusion, contaminants and disturbance (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). An artificial island nesting site created in the Camargue, France succeeded in attracting nesting pairs to the area (Hafner 2000).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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The ideal location for great egrets is near any form of water. Streams, lakes, ponds, mud flats, saltwater and freshwater marshes are inhabited by this beautiful bird. Wooded swamps and wetlands are the preferred location for great egrets and other heron species.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams; coastal ; brackish water

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp ; bog

Other Habitat Features: riparian ; estuarine

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The ideal location for great egrets is near any form of water. Streams, lakes, ponds, mud flats, saltwater and freshwater marshes are inhabited by this beautiful bird. Wooded swamps and wetlands are the preferred location for great egrets and other heron species.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams; coastal ; brackish water

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp ; bog

Other Habitat Features: riparian ; estuarine

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Depth range based on 4 specimens in 2 taxa.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Prefer shallow water, particularly when flowing, but may be seen on any watered area, including damp grasslands. Great Egrets can be seen alone or in small flocks, often with other egret species, and roost at night in groups.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Migratory in north; extensive post-breeding dispersal occurs prior to southward migration (Palmer 1962). Some banded in the U.S. reach northern Colombia (recorded in September and November; Hilty and Brown 1986). Breeders from the U.S. Atlantic coast are thought to winter in the Bahamas and West Indies (see Byrd and Johnston 1991). Migrants from the north are present in Costa Rica October-April (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Eats mainly fishes, amphibians, snakes, snails, crustaceans, insects, and small mammals; commonly forages in marshes and shallow water of ponds, also in fields (Palmer 1962).

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Food Habits

Frogs, snakes, crayfish, fish, mice, crickets, aquatic insects, grasshoppers, and many other insects constitute the typical diet of a great egret. Other large wading birds have similar feeding habits and compete with great egrets for food resources.

As opportunistic predators, great egrets usually feed on smaller aquatic and terrestrial insects and vertebrates and are considered to be heterotrophs. Wading slowly through the water, they are extremely successful at striking and catching fish or insects. Studies found that, standing still, great egrets were able to ingest more prey of intermediate size than if they moved around. This suggests that their goal is not to catch the largest quantity of food, but to catch high quality food.

Animal Foods: mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; insects; aquatic crustaceans

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Food Habits

Frogs, snakes, crayfish, fish, mice, crickets, aquatic insects, grasshoppers, and many other insects constitute the typical diet of a great egret. Other large wading birds have similar feeding habits and compete with great egrets for food resources.

As opportunistic predators, great egrets usually feed on smaller aquatic and terrestrial insects and vertebrates and are considered to be heterotrophs. Wading slowly through the water, they are extremely successful at striking and catching fish or insects. Studies found that, standing still, great egrets were able to ingest more prey of intermediate size than if they moved around. This suggests that their goal is not to catch the largest quantity of food, but to catch high quality food.

Animal Foods: mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; insects; aquatic crustaceans

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )

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Great egrets are heterotrophs. They are opportunistic predators with a wide variety of prey species including fish, crustaceans, amphibians, small mammals, insects and reptiles. Miranda and Collazo (1997) found that great egrets feeding in South American lagoons ate primarily shrimp, followed by guppies, crabs and insects. In the Florida Everglades, great egrets prey primarily on fish (Smith 1997). Great egrets eat more large fish of more different species than do other wading birds. They thus have low dietary overlap with other heron and egret species. This can be partially attributed to their large size, which contributes to their ability to forage in deeper waters where they encounter more large fish than other species do. Great egrets can thus exploit a niche not open to smaller birds (Willard 1977). Another reason for lower dietary overlap with other wading birds is that great egrets are capable of adjusting their diets based on changing environmental conditions. When the amount of preferred prey in a habitat is decreased, great egrets alter their diets to include other prey species. This is different from patterns observed in other heron and egret species such as the snowy egret and tricolored heron, which alter their foraging habitat and feeding tactics in order to continue to encounter preferred prey (Smith 1997).Striking efficiency (the percentage of strikes which result in the capture and ingestion of prey) in great egrets is maximized when they feed while wading slowly through the water. However, Willard (1977) showed that great egrets capture and ingest more intermediate sized prey if they stand still while foraging. This finding suggests that the goal of most wading birds may not be to maximize feeding efficiency, but rather, to capture and ingest more high quality prey items.Smith (1997), in studying a nesting colony at Lake Okeechobee, Florida, found that the diets of great egret nestlings are among the most varied for wading birds, and includes as many as 40 different species. Mosquitofish were the primary prey items offered to nestlings, followed by crayfish, sailfin mollies, bluegills, and shad.Competitors: Other large wading birds such as the great blue heron utilize similar habitats and food resources, but probable resource partitioning among species minimizes direct competition.Habitats: Great egrets are sympatric with other species of wading birds. Willard (1977) and Kent (1986) found significant habitat overlap of great egrets with snowy egrets, tricolored herons and little blue herons. However, it appears that there is some level of habitat partitioning that occurs, with great egrets preferring to inhabit freshwater pools and lakes (Chavez-Ramirez and Slack 1995), while other species utilize estuarine habitats.In Florida, great egrets prefer habitats with high water levels in winter, followed by receding water levels in early spring (Smith and Collopy 1997). Recession of water in spring concentrates prey in a smaller area, helping to increase nest success, and the later foraging success of fledglings. Collopy and Smith (1995) have suggested this choice of breeding habitat has direct applications to wetland management around Lake Okeechobee. With the large numbers of wading birds nesting in this area, the authors suggest it could be most beneficial to bird populations for wetland managers to consider keeping lake levels low in the late winter or early spring months of the nesting season.
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Feeds alone. It feeds on molluscs, amphibians, aquatic insects, small reptiles, crustaceans and occasionally other small animals, but fish make up the bulk of its diet. The Great Egret usually hunts in water, wading through the shallows, or standing motionless before stabbing at prey. Birds have also been seen taking prey while in flight.

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

As predators great egrets affect the populations of their prey.

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Predation

Adult great egrets have no non-human predators and now have some legal protection against humans. However, eggs and nestlings are exposed to numerous predators including crows (family Corvidae), vultures (family Cathartidae), and raccoons (Procyon_lotor, which are the most threatening).

Known Predators:

  • jays and crows (Corvidae)
  • vultures (Cathartidae)
  • raccoons (Procyon_lotor)

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Ecosystem Roles

As predators great egrets affect the populations of their prey.

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Predation

Adult great egrets have no non-human predators and now have some legal protection against humans. However, eggs and nestlings are exposed to numerous predators including crows (family Corvidae), vultures (family Cathartidae), and raccoons (Procyon lotor, which are the most threatening).

Known Predators:

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Great egrets are often seen in association with other wading birds in wetland habitat areas.
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Known prey organisms

Ardea alba preys on:
Actinopterygii
Crustacea
Insecta
Amphibia
Reptilia
Mammalia

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known prey organisms

Casmerodius albus (Fish-eating birds) preys on:
Paralichthyes albigutta
Strongylura marina
Leiostomus xanthurus

Based on studies in:
USA: Florida (Estuarine)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • Christian RR, Luczkovich JJ (1999) Organizing and understanding a winter’s seagrass foodweb network through effective trophic levels. Ecol Model 117:99–124
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Known predators

Ardea alba is prey of:
Corvidae
Procyon lotor
Cathartidae

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300

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Global Abundance

100,000 to >1,000,000 individuals

Comments: See Spendelow and Patton (1988) for information on distribution and abundance of coastal U.S. breeding populations.

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Great egrets are common in the IRL and throughout most of Florida.
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General Ecology

Nonbreeding: may gather in groups but usually forages singly, spreading out over available area.

In Florida, nestlings infected by the nematode EUSTRONGYLIDES IGNOTUS experienced higher mortality rates than did uninfected nestlings (Spalding et al. 1994).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Great grets communicate through elaborate courtship rituals, and with vocalizations that are a harsh low “corr”. Much of the way these birds communicate is illustrated by their elaborate courtship dances, and territoriality. When defending their territory they may squawk harshly, leap at, or jab their beak at the intruder.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

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Communication and Perception

Great grets communicate through elaborate courtship rituals, and with vocalizations that are a harsh low “corr”. Much of the way these birds communicate is illustrated by their elaborate courtship dances, and territoriality. When defending their territory they may squawk harshly, leap at, or jab their beak at the intruder.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

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Cyclicity

Comments: Arrives at roost at sunset or at dark, departs at first light (Palmer 1962). Forages during daylight (Powell 1987).

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Life Cycle

Development

Nestlings are virtually helpless and covered with a layer of long white down feathers and begin to fly at about 42 days after hatching (Illinois Department of Natural Resources [INHS] 1998).

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Development

Nestlings are virtually helpless and covered with a layer of long white down feathers and begin to fly at about 42 days after hatching (Illinois Department of Natural Resources [INHS] 1998).

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Great egrets have a lifespan of about 15 years in the wild (22 in captivity).

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
22.8 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
15 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
22 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
274 months.

  • Burger, J., M. Gochfeld. 1997. Risk, mercury levels, and birds: relating adverse laboratory effects to field biomonitoring. Environmental Research, 75: 160-172.
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Lifespan/Longevity

Great egrets have a lifespan of about 15 years in the wild (22 in captivity).

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
22.8 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
15 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
22 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
274 months.

  • Burger, J., M. Gochfeld. 1997. Risk, mercury levels, and birds: relating adverse laboratory effects to field biomonitoring. Environmental Research, 75: 160-172.
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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 22.8 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Clutch size is 1-6 (usually 3-4) in the north, 2-3 in the south. Incubation lasts 23-25 days, by both sexes. Young fly at about 6 weeks. Nests solitarily or in small to large colonies (Harrison 1979). In Florida, failure of nests was associated with high rainfall (Frederick and Collopy 1989). May lay another clutch if eggs are lost during incubation (Byrd and Johnston 1991).

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Great egrets are seasonally monogamous animals. Male egrets are responsible for selecting a territory and performing a series of rituals in order to attract a female. Copulation occurs within the males’ territory.

Mating System: monogamous

Typically, great egret nests are built with other heron nests in a colony in wetlands and wooded swamps. Nests are a flimsy platform constructed of sticks, twigs, and stems built as high as possible. The eggs are a pale greenish blue, and are incubated by both the male and female for about 23 to 24 days. Nestlings usually fledge 2-3 weeks after hatching. With a clutch size of only 3-4 eggs, great egrets will lay replacement eggs if any of the first eggs are damaged. Great egrets are capable of reproducing after two years and raise one brood per year. The breeding season begins mid-April.

Breeding interval: Great egrets breed once per year.

Breeding season: Breeding season begins in mid-April.

Average eggs per season: 3-4.

Average time to hatching: 23-24 days.

Average fledging age: 2-3 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Both male and female great egrets participate in incubating and feeding the semi-altricial young. Nestlings are initially fed by regurgitation, followed by bill-grabbing, where the parent holds prey over the nestling to grab at as it eats.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; pre-fertilization; pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female)

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Nesting in Florida's Lake Okeechobee region occurs from mid-December through January (Ehrlich et al 1988), and is preceded by courting behavior from as early as late July or August. Smith and Collopy (1995) found a strong positive correlation between receding water levels in Lake Okeechobee and nesting sites chosen by great egrets. It is believed that these areas are preferred because receding water has the effect of concentrating prey in a smaller area, thus making it simpler to feed nestlings (Smith and Collopy 1995). Between 3 - 5 eggs are laid per clutch. One brood is raised each year; however, should the first nest be destroyed, a replacement clutch can be laid.A study which followed a mixed nesting colony in Vero Beach, Florida reported that great egrets nesting along the Indian River Lagoon preferred to nest somewhat upland of the water's edge, constructing 77% of their nests in black mangrove trees; and 23% of nests in white mangrove trees (Maxwell and Kale 1977). In this study, most egg laying had been completed by the end of the first week of April.
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Breeds in colonies, and often in association with cormorants, ibises and other egrets. Both sexes construct the nest, which is a large platform of sticks, placed in a tree over the water. The previous years' nest may often be re-used. Both sexes also incubate the eggs and care for the young (usually two or three). Breeding season: October to December in the south; March to May in the north. Clutch size: 2 to 6 Incubation: 28 days Time in nest: 40 days

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Growth

The incubation period for great egret eggs is 23 - 26 days. Eggs hatch asynchronously over a period of several days. The first chick to hatch thus becomes the most experienced at food handling, and quickly becomes the most experienced aggressor toward its siblings. As a result, nestmates have varied growth rates, with the first chick generally growing the fastest. Data from Custer and Peterson (1991) show that first and second chicks have somewhat even growth rates, with third chicks showing slower growth.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ardea alba

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 16
Specimens with Barcodes: 23
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Ardea alba

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 8 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NTTTATATTTATCTTTGGAGCATGAGCCGGCATAATTGGAACCGCCCTAAGCCTACTCATCCGAGCCGAACTCGGCCAACCAGGAACACTCCTAGGAGACGACCAGATCTACAATGTAATCGTCACCGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTTATGCCAATCATAATTGGGGGCTTCGGAAATTGACTAGTCCCACTCATAATCGGTGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCACGCATAAATAATATAAGCTTCTGACTTCTACCACCATCATTTATACTCCTACTAGCCTCATCCACAGTCGAAGCAGGAGCAGGTACAGGTTGAACAGTCTACCCACCATTAGCCGGTAACCTAGCTCATGCTGGAGCTTCAGTAGACCTAGCCATCTTCTCCCTCCACCTGGCAGGTGTGTCCTCCATCTTAGGCGCAATCAACTTCATTACAACTGCCATCAACATAAAACCCCCAGCCCTATCACAATATCAGACCCCCCTATTCGTATGATCCGTCCTGATTACCGCTGTCTTACTCTTACTCTCTCTTCCAGTCCTTGCTGCAGGCATTACAATACTACTAACTGACCGAAACCTAAACACTACATTCTTTGACCCTGCCGGAGGTGGAGACCCAGTCCTTTACCAACACCTCNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N3B - Vulnerable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5B,N5N : N5B: Secure - Breeding, N5N: Secure - Nonbreeding

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Reasons: Secure due primarily to the very large range, though the amount of suitable nesting habitat is relatively restricted.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Prior to the 20th century, the population of great egrets was nearly decimated by the demand for their lacey plumage for women’s hats and other fashionable garments. With great concern for the welfare of great egrets, legal restrictions were placed on the harvesting of this animal. Great egrets were placed under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. By the mid 1900's populations of great egrets were steadily on the rise. Today, populations are doing well. However, there are still many human-induced threats to the survival of great egrets. Loss of habitat, water pollution, and various air pollutants all contribute to the dangers faced by great egrets. Hydrocarbons are especially problematic because they cause great egrets to lay thinner eggs that are more susceptible to cracking or damage before the young hatch. Mercury has been found at high levels in the feathers of numerous avian species including great egrets. The amount of mercury found depends on age, sex, geographic location, and mercury concentrations in the habitat around them including the air, soil and organisms they consume. These contaminations have also been found to negatively effect behavior, physiology, and reproduction.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Status in Egypt

Regular passage visitor and winter visitor.

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Prior to the 20th century, the population of great egrets was nearly decimated by the demand for their lacey plumage for women’s hats and other fashionable garments. With great concern for the welfare of great egrets, legal restrictions were placed on the harvesting of this animal. Great egrets were placed under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. By the mid 1900's populations of great egrets were steadily on the rise. Today, populations are doing well. However, there are still many human-induced threats to the survival of great egrets. Loss of habitat, water pollution, and various air pollutants all contribute to the dangers faced by great egrets. Hydrocarbons are especially problematic because they cause great egrets to lay thinner eggs that are more susceptible to cracking or damage before the young hatch. Mercury has been found at high levels in the feathers of numerous avian species including great egrets. The amount of mercury found depends on age, sex, geographic location, and mercury concentrations in the habitat around them including the air, soil and organisms they consume. These contaminations have also been found to negatively effect behavior, physiology, and reproduction.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Not Threatened.

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Population

Population
Estimate includes totals for 'Ardea modesta'.

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
The species is threatened by wetland habitat degradation and loss (Marchant and Higgins 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1992) for example through drainage, grazing, clearing, burning, increased salinity, groundwater extraction and invasion by exotic plants (Marchant and Higgins 1990). Breeding colonies in Madagascar may be declining due to egg and chick gathering from colonies by local peoples (Langrand 1990, Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and the species previously suffered from intense persecution for the plume trade (this is no longer a threat) (del Hoyo et al. 1992).
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In Florida, listed as a species of Species of Special Concern (SSC), but is not federally listed as threatened or endangered.Benefit in IRL: The environmental sensitivity of wading birds, coupled with the relative ease of assessing their numbers, makes them attractive as biological indicators of ecosystem health and habitat quality (Custer and Osborn 1977; Powell and Powell 1986; Powell et al. 1989).
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Management

Management Requirements: In Illinois, a public viewing area used once a week by humans 229 m from a rookery did not cause any overt responses from nesting birds (DeMauro 1993).

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of great egrets on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Prior to the 20th century there was great demand for the lacey plumage of great egrets for women's hats and other fashionable garments.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of great egrets on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Prior to the 20th century there was great demand for the lacey plumage of great egrets for women's hats and other fashionable garments.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material

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Wikipedia

Great egret

For the short story by Sarah Orne Jewett, see A White Heron.

The great egret (Ardea alba) also known as common egret, large egret or (in the Old World) great white heron,[2][3][4] is a large, widely distributed egret. Distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world, in southern Europe it is rather localized. In North America it is more widely distributed, and it is ubiquitous across the Sun Belt of the United States and in the Neotropics. The Old World population is often referred to as the great white egret. This species is sometimes confused with the great white heron of the Caribbean, which is a white morph of the closely related great blue heron (A. herodias).

Description[edit]

In flight

The great egret is a large heron with all-white plumage. Standing up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, this species can measure 80 to 104 cm (31 to 41 in) in length and have a wingspan of 131 to 170 cm (52 to 67 in).[5][6] Body mass can range from 700 to 1,500 g (1.5 to 3.3 lb), with an average of around 1,000 g (2.2 lb).[7] It is thus only slightly smaller than the great blue or grey heron (A. cinerea). Apart from size, the great egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. Males and females are identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults. Differentiated from the intermediate egret (Mesophoyx intermedius) by the gape, which extends well beyond the back of the eye in case of the great egret, but ends just behind the eye in case of the intermediate egret.

It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes, ibises, and spoonbills, which extend their necks in flight.

The great egret is not normally a vocal bird; at breeding colonies, however, it often gives a loud croaking cuk cuk cuk.

Systematics and taxonomy[edit]

Like all egrets, it is a member of the heron family, Ardeidae. Traditionally classified with the storks in the Ciconiiformes, the Ardeidae are closer relatives of pelicans and belong in the Pelecaniformes instead. The great egret—unlike the typical egrets—does not belong to the genus Egretta but together with the great herons is today placed in Ardea. In the past, however, it was sometimes placed in Egretta or separated in a monotypic genus Casmerodius.

White heron at water's edge – Kason

Subspecies[edit]

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 A. a. modesta from Asia and Australasia some taxonomists consider a full species, the eastern great egret (Ardea modesta).:

Ecology and status[edit]

Parent on nest in a tree with chicks

The great egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with colder winters. It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest.

The great egret is generally a very successful species with a large and expanding range. 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. In 1953, the great egret in flight was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers.[8][9]

The great egret is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

On 22 May 2012, it was announced a pair of great egrets were nesting in the UK for the first time at the Shapwick Heath nature reserve in Somerset.[10] The species is a rare visitor to the UK and Ben Aviss of the BBC stated that the news could mean the UK's first great egret colony is established.[10][11] The following week, Kevin Anderson of Natural England confirmed a great egret chick had hatched, making it a new breeding bird record for the UK.[12] Anderson commented "We've definitely seen one chick stretching a wing just before the adult arrived and also after it left and we continue to monitor for more. The eggs of the great egret can hatch over a period of a few days so it may be that if there are other young on the nest they will be less developed and won't be visible yet."[12]

Diet[edit]

Spearing a fish

The great egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, feeding mainly on fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally small reptiles and insects, spearing them with its long, sharp bill most of the time by standing still and allowing the prey to come within its striking distance of its bill which it uses as a spear. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.

In culture[edit]

The great egret is depicted on the reverse side of a 5-Brazilian reais banknote.

White Egrets is the title of Saint Lucian poet Derek Walcott's fourteenth collection of poems.

The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.[13]

The name of venerable Shariputra, one of the Buddha's best known followers, signifies the son of the egret (among other possibilities), it is said that his mother had eyes like a great egret.[14]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Casmerodius albus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Bewick, Thomas (1809). "The Great White Heron (Ardea alba, Lin. – Le Heron blanc, Buff.)". Part II, Containing the History and Description of Water Birds. A History of British Birds. Newcastle: Edward Walker. p. 52. 
  3. ^ Bruun, B.; Delin, H. and Svenson, L. (1970) The Hamlyn Guide to Birds to Britain and Europe. London, p. 36, ISBN 0753709562.
  4. ^ Ali, S. (1993). The Book of Indian Birds. Bombay: Bombay Natural History Society. ISBN 0195637313. 
  5. ^ Great Egret, Life History, All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Allaboutbirds.org. Retrieved on 2013-09-25.
  6. ^ Animal Bytes – Egrets. Seaworld.org. Retrieved on 2013-09-25.
  7. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  8. ^ "Timeline of Accomplishments". National Audubon Society. Retrieved March 6, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Historical Highlights: Signature Species". National Audubon Society. Archived from the original on March 30, 2009. Retrieved March 6, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b Aviss, Ben (22 May 2012). "Great white egrets nest in UK for first time". BBC Nature (BBC). Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  11. ^ Aviss, Ben (31 May 2012). "Great white egrets breed in UK for first time". BBC Nature (BBC). Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Hallett, Emma (31 May 2012). "Rare great white egret chick hatches in UK for first time". The Independent (Independent Print Limited). Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  13. ^ "Great Egret (Ardea alba)". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  14. ^ A direct explanation of Heart Sutra. Purifymind.com. Retrieved on 2013-09-25.

References[edit]

  • Roger Tory Peterson (1998). Eastern Birds. Peterson Field Guides (4th ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-395-91176-1. 
  • David W. Snow, Christopher M. Perrins, Paul Doherty & Stanley Cramp (1998). The Complete Birds of the Western Palaearctic on CD-ROM. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-268579-1. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Formerly included in the genus Casmerodius (see AOU 1995). Has been included in genus Egretta by some authors (AOU 1998).

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