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Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egret -- just beginning to get its rust color -- on Water Buffalo.JPG

Cattle Egrets are native to southern Africa, but for more than half a century they have been dramatically expanding their range. These small white egrets, with a pale rust-colored crest and breast, naturally followed grazing animals in Africa, but now can be found around much of the world – following grazing wildlife, but also cattle, horses, tractors, and lawnmowers. They became common in North America in the 1950s.

Unlike other herons and egrets, Cattle Egrets feed primarily on grassland insects, frogs, lizards, small snakes, and other animals – even, occasionally, fish. As with many other herons and egrets, they typically nest in large colonies – often joining other species. Therein lies one of the problems with them: they have no need to go to water for food, thus can stay near nesting areas where they steal nesting material from nests of other herons and egrets when the owners fly off to capture food. Cattle Egrets are easy to identify because of their small size and white plumage with a rusty crest, back, and chest in breeding adults. Leg color is normally greenish yellow, but legs of non-breeding and juvenile Cattle Egrets can be nearly black.