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The Great White Egret - Interesting Facts and Information

The Great White Egret

A great white egret is fishing in one of our ponds.

A great white egret is fishing in one of our ponds.

Range Map of Great White Egret

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Habit and Range

The great white egret is a fishing bird that inhabits many wetlands of North America. They can be found in and around ponds, marshes, lakes, rivers, swamps and almost anywhere there is low water accumulations. They range from southern Canada and scattered states around the US, migrating to South America in the winter. In May of 2012, a pair of great egrets were seen nesting in the UK and at least one chick was later seen. It is hoped that the Great Egret will continue to find nesting ground in the UK.

Great White Egret During Breeding Season

Notice the neon green patch of skin on the face of this egret during mating season.

Notice the neon green patch of skin on the face of this egret during mating season.

Description

The Great White Egret is solid white with a yellowish-orange dagger like bill and long black legs. It measures approximately 37 to 41 inches in length with a wing span of about 51 to 57 inches across. The may weigh about 35 pounds and are somewhat smaller than the Great Blue Heron, but larger than the Snowy Egret.

During their breeding season, the patch of skin on the egrets face will turn a neon green in color and long plumes of feathers called “aigrettes”, will grow and cascade down its back. They were hunted almost to extinction in the late nineteenth century for these beautiful plumes. The plumes were prized for adorning ladies hats. The Great White Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.

Great White Egrets in Flight

Great egrets in flight.

Great egrets in flight.

Flight

The Great White Egrets fly rather slowly at only 2 wing-beats per second and their cruising speed is only about 25 miles an hour. You can tell an egret from other wading birds in flight, as the egret will always have its S-shaped neck tucked in in flight and their long black legs will be trailing behind them.

Meal Time

Great White Egret eating a fish on shore.

Great White Egret eating a fish on shore.

Diet

They are long legged wading birds who hunt in both fresh and saltwater habitats. Their diet consists of small fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates such as crayfish and shrimp. They will also eat insects such as dragonflies, damselflies, water bugs and grasshoppers.

They typically wade into the shallow waters and stand perfectly still, watching for their prey to approach. When their prey comes close enough, the use their long neck and sharp bill to strike and stab the prey which they then swallow whole.

Great White Egret with Chicks

Great White Egret with chicks in nest.

Great White Egret with chicks in nest.

Nesting

They nest in colonies, usually high in the trees or in the top of shrubs where they can avoid predators such as raccoons. Their nests are typically “platform nests” made of long sticks. The male usually builds the next before finding his mate. The nest may be up to 3 feet across and 1 foot deep. It is lines with plant material that dries to form a cup shape.

The female egret may lay anywhere from 1 to 6 eggs during 1 or 2 broods per year. Their nesting period is approximately 21 to 25 days with an incubation period of 23 to 27 days. Both the male and the female will look after the eggs. The eggs are smooth and a pale greenish-blue in color. Not all the chicks will usually survive, due to what is called siblicide. This is a common behavior where the larger chicks will kill the smaller ones. This behavior is common in birds such as herons, hawks and owls and happens more often as a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.

General Information

The numbers of the Great White Egret have grown considerable since the outlawing of killing these birds for the beautiful feathers and their range is increasing as well.

The oldest known Great Egret lived to be almost 23 years old. This is known as the egret was banded in Ohio.

Comments

Mark Tulin from Ventura, California on June 14, 2020:

I love this beautiful bird.

Kevin Howell from Maysville KY on September 05, 2019:

I enjoy reading about all the animals in our perfectly designed system we call earth. I raise cattle and try to educate myself on other species that can help on the farm. I know some egrets have a great symbiotic relationship with cattle. That would make a great hub actually. Enjoyed reading

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on December 02, 2015:

Thank you, Patricia! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well! I did get to spend time with all my grandchildren this holiday and it was wonderful. Thank you so much for stopping by! :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 21, 2015:

Hi Sheila

pretty sure I read this but wanted to stop by and say Happy Thanksgiving.

And these birds are some of my favorites...I traveled to a nearby town to photograph a large group of them...what a lovely day that was...We have them where I live but not large groups like I was privy to in the area I visited.

Hoping you have a lovely Thanksgiving...eight grandchildren??? Lucky you..I hope many of them will be with you over this season of the year.

Angels are once again on the way ps

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 27, 2015:

You are welcome, thumbi! They must preen their feathers very often to keep them so white. :)

JR Krishna from India on September 21, 2015:

Lovely birds.

I always wonder how thy keep their feathers so white and bright!

Thanks for sharing

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on September 18, 2015:

You're very welcome Sheila

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 18, 2015:

Thank you and your welcome, Kristen! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub. I appreciate you stopping by! :)

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on September 16, 2015:

What a lovely hub, Sheila. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this insightful hub!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 10, 2015:

They are such beautiful birds, aren't they! I would be very sad if they had disappeared. We can thank the Audubon Society for keeping them with us. I shudder to think about all those beautiful feathers burned to a crisp! What some people will do!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 10, 2015:

Thank you, Randy! Just this morning, there were 2 Great Blue herons flying overhead even before the sun came up. I love watching them and the Great Whites when they are at out ponds. :)

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on September 07, 2015:

Hi Sheila, I love GWE;s - they are such majestic birds. How sad it would have been if they disappeared in order to supply the hat industry with feathers. I remember reading that the feather industry dropped off so quickly that feather warehouses were torched for the insurance.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on September 07, 2015:

I see these wonderful birds often in the pond back of my house, Sheila. Often both they and the Great Blue Heron are fishing at the same time. Wonderful info and photos in this hub. :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 07, 2015:

Thank you Elsie! I wish I had taken the better photos, but I have not been that lucky. I'm glad you enjoyed my hub and thank you for stopping by! :)

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on September 06, 2015:

Very interesting bird, you have selected some very nice photos that make this article attractive to the reader.

Thanks for sharing this bird with us, we are very lucky to have the pleasure of seeing these birds, it would be nice if I saw one in NZ. Wishing.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 06, 2015:

Thank you Deb! Thank are quite beautiful. I am hoping to be able to take some better pictures next spring. I envy your talent for bird photography! :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on September 05, 2015:

Great Egret is a stunning bird during breeding season. Well done.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 02, 2015:

Thank you, Bill! They are beautiful to watch. I wish I could see them here more often, but I will have one visit from time to time. When we camp out at our nearby lake is when I see them the most. I always try to get pictures of them.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 02, 2015:

Thank you, Jackie! I'm glad you got to see one in real life. They are very awe inspiring to watch.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 02, 2015:

Thank you, Cornelia! They are such beautiful birds, I'm glad you get to see them as well. It is sad that the larger chicks will kill the smaller ones. I guess that is survival of the fittest.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 02, 2015:

They come to visit our ponds from time to time, that is where I got the first picture. I love watching them, they are so graceful when the take off or land and I like watching them hunt too. Thank you so much for stopping by and all your support, Peggy! Have a great day! :)

Faith Reaper from southern USA on September 01, 2015:

What a beautiful hub about a beautiful bird, Sheila. Great information. We have them here, but don't remember the last time I saw one ...

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 01, 2015:

Strikingly beautiful birds although that siblicide isn't so nice. What a tough world.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on September 01, 2015:

Hi Shiela. While I have not seen the Great White Egret here in New England where I live we see them all over in Florida. I love watching them hunt, so focused. Great info and pictures.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 01, 2015:

Thank you, Shauna! They are so beautiful to watch. We get to see them from time to time on our ponds and I love to watch them take off and land.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 31, 2015:

I did see a couple of these migrating one year which was most unusual but they stopped by a large body of water near me or I might never have seen one in real life. They were so beautiful and I sat in awe every minute until they flew away. What a thrill. Great article!

Korneliya Yonkova from Cork, Ireland on August 31, 2015:

Amazing hub, Sheila, we have the same birds here in Ireland and I had no slightest idea that they are called egrets :) I thought they are ordinary herons. It is so sad that the larger chicks kill the little and helpless ones.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 31, 2015:

We have these beautiful great white egret birds in our locale here in Houston and often see them in a drainage ditch that goes through a greenbelt area in our subdivision. I learned a bit more about them from reading your article Sheila. Nice job! Will share this and also pin to my birds board.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 31, 2015:

I'm fortunate to have these beautiful birds here in Florida. They're striking when they take off from the water. Their wing span is impressive. What I didn't realize is they can span longer than I am tall. Pretty amazing!

Great shots, Sheila. I love the birds in flight photo you took.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on August 31, 2015:

Hello Patricia! I have not been on here much either, so much to do around here in the spring and summer months. I hope all is well with you and your family. I am glad to hear from you and sending those angels right back to you! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on August 31, 2015:

They are beautiful birds. I wish I could have taken some of these photos myself, only 2 of them are my own. It is difficult to get very close to them, at least around here. I hope to get lucky some day and get some more pictures of them.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on August 31, 2015:

You described them so beautifully! They are very beautiful and graceful birds. I too enjoy watching them as they touch down with such grace.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on August 31, 2015:

Both egrets and flamingos are very elegant and graceful birds. I enjoy watching the egrets as they take off in flight so gracefully.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on August 31, 2015:

Thanks, Bill! They are really such beautiful birds. I hope you can see one "in person" some day, I think you would be quite impressed with their beauty. Thank you for stopping by!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on August 31, 2015:

Thank you, Peg! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for stopping by! :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on August 30, 2015:

Hi Sheila Love love these birds....we are so blessed to have close by such beauties as these and blue herons and osprey and on and on....

Hoping all is well with you...I am not on so much but have missed you...

Angels are headed your way this evening ps shared and pinned g+ tweeted

Jill Spencer from United States on August 30, 2015:

Just saw several of these today when we were at Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. They're such beautiful birds! Your photos are lovely. I wish I had gotten as close as you did!

Mary Wickison from Brazil on August 30, 2015:

We have those re on our farm in Brazil. They are elegant birds.

As they fly over our lake they bank into the wind, and with their huge wings outstretched, they touch down with the grace of a ballerina.

I love seeing them.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on August 30, 2015:

This bird is very elegant as flamingos

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 30, 2015:

These lovely birds overwinter here in San Diego as well, Sheila, but they don't breed here, so I've never seen one in that eye catching breeding plumage. This was a great article filled with interesting facts.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 30, 2015:

I've never seen one. Great pics, interesting facts.....thanks for filling in gaps in my education. :)

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on August 30, 2015:

Beautiful photos and informative article, Sheila.

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