The Cattle Egret (
) is an abundant resident across the state of Texas. They can be found in every county of the state during the migration or breeding period and small numbers reside along the Texas coastal plains year round. In the western half of the state they tend to be locally distributed around preferred habit. During the migration period, they can be found in very large flocks typically around agricultural areas.
As you can guess, this species’ name comes from the fact that it is frequently in the presence of cattle. They are often found foraging at the feet of grazing cattle with heads bobbing every step or riding on a cow’s back to pick at ticks. Cattle egrets tend to form large breeding rookeries scattered around the eastern half of the state. In the western half of the state breeding is much more localized and may only involve a few pairs of birds.
The Cattle Egret is a member of the Ardeidae Family which consists of twenty genera including 66 species of wading birds. All wading birds are long legged and have long bills which are used to catch or spear fish or other prey. The Cattle Egret has a comparatively short thick neck and is one of the smaller wading birds (20 inches in length).
As can be seen from the photo above, this bird has just caught a small snake for breakfast and is dipping the snake in the water puddle to clean and lubricate it prior to swallowing the snake head first.
This all white bird, gains orange-brown feathers on its head, neck, and back during breeding season. The bill is yellow but turns orange-red during breeding. Its legs are blackish, but change to orangey during breeding season. Their diet consists predominantly of insects, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. They weigh only about 12 ounces or 340 grams. The call sounds like “Raah” and you will hear the short croaks while on the breeding grounds.
The typical life span of a Cattle Egret is 10 – 15 years but the oldest one on record was 17 years old. Cattle Egrets are native to Africa, South West Europe, and Southeast Asia, but reached northeastern South America in 1877 when they were blown across the Atlantic ocean presumably in a storm. They spread to the United States in 1941 and began nesting by 1953.
The first record of cattle egrets in Texas was in Nueces County in 1955 and since then the species has made a significant northern movement. They are now one of the most abundant of the North American herons and are found as far north as Alaska and Newfoundland.