How to Identify a Cattle Egret

Two Parts:Location of the birdIdentifiers of the bird

If you spy a slender bird with tall legs and a long bill swoop down to eat something in a field near you, chances are you've just laid your eyes on a cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis). But how can you be sure, given that there are many species of egret and even more species of bird? By following the identifiers explained here, you will become astute at spotting the cattle egret.

Part 1
Location of the bird

  1. Image titled Identify a Cattle Egret Step 1
    Consider your location. Cattle egrets are found in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate zones. Hence, if you're in the Arctic, you're not looking at a cattle egret. However, even though this bird was originally native to parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe, it has moved around the world and can be found in many parts of the world where it's warm enough for the bird. The map included in this step will help you to see whether you're in a place where this bird might also be.
    • The color key to the image is: Green - present all year round; Yellow - breeding season only; Blue - non-breeding season only.
    • You can also check a local bird book for more details about the distribution of the bird in your area, or contact a local bird expert (ornithologist).
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    Be aware that there are two species of Cattle egret. One is the Bubulcus ibis, and the other is the B. i. coromandus. You'll need to find out which of the two species lives in your area.

Part 2
Identifiers of the bird

  1. Image titled Identify a Cattle Egret Step 3
    Make sure the bird you are looking at is white. Cattle egrets are of the heron family and they exhibit shiny white feathers. When ready to mate, they produce thin, glossy, orange feathers on the head, chest, and wings. If the bird your looking at is purple, the the chances are you have a different bird species.
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    Check the eyes. Cattle egrets have either red, yellow, or orange eyes.
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    Check the body and legs. Cattle egrets have stout bodies and long slender legs.
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    Note its behavior. The way that an animal behaves is a good way to identify them. Cattle egrets, for example, get their name because they follow cows around to eat the insects the cows attract and snack off. It is a symbiotic relationship in which the cow provides food to the egret and the egret cleans the cow.
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    Watch, don't intrude. If you happen to correctly identify the cattle egret than congratulations, but make sure to leave the birds to their usual, daily lives and to not disturb them.
    • In the image, note the difference between the smaller cattle egret and the larger great egret. They don't mind each other's company though.


  • If you're in the wilderness, don't try to scare them off. Leave them be and let nature take its course.
  • If you're in the city, try to find away to get the bird back to its habitat by contacting an ornithologist. However, if your city has attractive wetlands and is purposefully designed to incorporate nature, then it's likely okay where it is.
  • If you are identifying the bird to try to find the best way to get rid off it (if it's a pest or invasive species), then keep in mind that birds are not intentionally trying to cause trouble and are only doing what they are naturally supposed to do. Professional advice should be obtained before trying to remove any animal from an urban are/ place where it doesn't belong.


  • Do not try to handle a cattle egret without professional assistance and keep your distance it the bird is aggressive or protecting its nest.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Birdwatching