Great Egret

(Ardea alba)

The Great Egret along with its cousin species the Snowy Egret were once in danger of disappearing in America when their plumes were collected to decorate fashionable hats in the late 1800s. In a 9 month period it was calculated that as many as 130,000 birds were killed to collect their plumes for the London market alone. Among others their plight motivated conservationists Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall to form the Massachusetts Audubon Society which was the beginnings of our National Audubon Society. Over time the species made a comeback. In 1953 the National Audubon Society adopted the Great Egret as its emblem symbol where it can be seen in the logo today.

Local Great Egrets are commonly seen most of the year wading in wetland areas or even in backyard ponds waiting to ambush their wet meal below. They can be distinguished from both the all white Cattle Egret and Snowy Egret due to their larger size.

Can be distinguished from other white egrets by yellow bill and black legs & feet. (males & females of the same species are not visibily distinguishable)

Standing Height: (~3 ft tall) 31-40 inches

Wingspan: 4 ft 4" to 5 ft 7"

Weight: 1.5 to 3.3 lbs

Lifespan: The oldest known Great Egret was 22 years, 10 months old and was banded in Ohio.

Diet consists mostly of small fish but also eats amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals and invertebrates such as crayfish, dragonflies, and grasshoppers.
Partially migratory. Mostly birds in the northern hemisphere move south during the day in small flocks to avoid colder northern winters. Some southern birds are year round residents.
Age of breeding is ~2-3 yrs. Nests in colonies or isolated pairs. Nest site is selected by male. Site is where display and courtship takes place. Nest is about 3 ft across by 1 ft deep, built of long twigs and lined with plant matter by both sexes. Nest is typically located in tree tops 10 to 40 ft up. Nests are not likely reused year to year.
Clutch size = 1 to 6 pale blue-green eggs.
Incubation = 23 to 27 days with incubation by both parents. Both parents feed regurgitated food to chicks.
Fledging = At 3 wks chicks may climb out of nest. They are able to fly at 6-7 wks.


  1. "Great Egret, Life History". All about birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved October, 2016.
  2. "Great Egret". Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved October, 2016.
  3. "Great Egret". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October, 20016.
  4. "Great Egret Ardea alba (Linnaeus)". Heron Conservation. Retrieved October 2016.
  5. Souder, William (March 2013). "How Two Women Ended the Deadly Feather Trade". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved October 2016.