Great Egret

A Great Egret Wading in deep water
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Scientific Name: Ardea alba

Size: 41 to 49 cm

What does it look like?

The Great Egret is the largest of the Australian egrets. The overall plumage is white, and, for most of the year, the bill and facial skin are yellow. The feet are dark olive-grey, as are the legs, which become yellow toward the top. During the breeding season (October to December) the bill turns mostly black and the facial skin becomes green. Also at this time, long hair-like fathers (nuptial plumes) hang from the lower back, and the legs become black at the base and pinkish-yellow at the top. Young Great Egrets are similar to the adults, but with a blackish tip to the bill.

The Great Egret is easily confused with other white egrets found in Australia. It can be distinguished by the length of its neck, which is greater than the length of its body (and with a noticeable kink two-thirds of the way up), and a dark line extending from the base of the bill to behind the eye.

Where is it found?

Great Egrets occur throughout most of the world. They are common and familiar in the majority of Australia, with the exception of the most arid areas.

What are its habitats & habits?

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

The Great Egret usually 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 be seen taking prey while in flight.

In Australia, the breeding season of the Great Egret is normally October to December in the south and March to May in the north. It breed 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 2 to 6 young (usually 2 or 3). The eggs take almost a month to hatch and the young birds will leave the nest after a further 40 days.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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