Great White Egret

Ardea alba

85-102cm

Appearance

This bird has longer wings and neck than the Little Egret. It is white and its neck is usually bent in an 'S' shape. The bill is yellow in the winter; it darkens when breeding, and there are also long, delicate plumes at the nape of the neck at this time. It holds its neck in when flying and its legs dangle obviously beyond the tail.

Habitat

Wet meadows, marshes, rivers, lakesides and estuaries are all known habitats. In Britain it nests in the marginal vegetation of these areas.

Character

Tends to feed early in the morning and late afternoon in the wetlands. It has two main techniques; it may be still in the water, waiting for prey to pass and then stab with its bill, or it wades, slowly pecking. Roosting occurs in beds of reeds, occasionally in association with Great White Egrets.

Food

Eats a plethora of things, from small mammals to insect larvae. Crustaceans, young birds, molluscs and fish are all part of its diet.

Breeding

Female lays 3-5 light-blue eggs and the male helps her to incubate them for 25-26 days. Parents also share the duty of feeding the young until they're able to fly, which happens between 38 and 58 days.

Population

Hungary and Austria are the traditional breeding grounds for these birds; they used to spend winter in the Mediterranean, but recent birds based in France are more likely to head for The Netherlands and Britain for the colder months. The first recorded breeding episode in Britain was in 2012 when two pairs bred in Somerset.

Observation Tips

Its small numbers make it a rare find, but when seen, this bird is often perched at the tops of trees, particularly the dead trees poking out of marshes. If birds are seen carrying sticks, this is often an indication of breeding in the area.

Voice

Utters low, guttural caws and croaks when breeding.
Back to Bird Index
Other Birds
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica Barn Owl Tyto alba Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria Bean Goose Anser fabalis Bearded Tit/Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus Bee-eater Merops apiaster Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus Bittern Botaurus stellaris Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Black Tern Chlidonias niger Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica Blackbird Terdus merula Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus Bluethroat Luscinia svecica Brambling Fringilla montifringilla Brent Goose Branta bernicla Buzzard Buteo buteo Canada Goose Branta canadensis Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus Carrion Crow Corvus corone Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Coal Tit Periparus ater Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Common Gull Larus canus Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Common Scoter Melanitta nigra Common Tern Sterna hirundo Coot Fulica atra Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Corncrake Crex crex Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea Crane Grus grus Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Curlew Numenius arquata Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata Dipper Cinclus cinclus Dotterel Charadrius morinellus Dunlin Calidris alpina Dunnock Prunella modularis Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca Eider Somateria mollissima Fieldfare Turdus pilaris Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis Gadwall Anas strepera Gannet Morus bassanus Garden Warbler Sylvia borin Garganey Anas querquedula Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus Goldcrest Regulus regulus Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria Goldeneye Bucephala clangula Goosander Mergus merganser Goshawk Accipiter gentilis Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor Great Northern Diver Gavia immer Great Skua Catharacta skua Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Great Tit Parus major Great White Egret Ardea alba Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus Green Woodpecker Picus viridis Greenshank Tringa nebularia Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Grey Partridge Perdix perdix Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Greylag Goose Anser anser Guillemot Uria aalge Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus Herring Gull Larus argentatus Hobby Falco subbuteo Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus Hooded Crow Corvus cornix Hoopoe Upupa epops House Martin Delichon urbica Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus Jackdaw Corvus monedula Jay Garrulus glandarius Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla Knot Calidris canutus Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca Little Auk Alle alle Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus Little Egret Egretta garzetta Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus Little Owl Athene noctua Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Little Stint Calidris minuta Little Tern Sterna albifrons Long-eared Owl Asio otus Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Magpie Pica pica Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Mandarin Aix galericulata Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Marsh Tit Poecile palustris Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta Merlin Falco columbarius Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Mute Swan Cygnus olor Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus Nuthatch Sitta europaea Osprey Pandion haliaetus Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Pallas's Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos Peregrine Falco peregrinus Pheasant Phasianus colchicus Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus Pintail Anus acuta Pochard Aythya ferina Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus Ptarmigan Lagopus mutus Puffin Fratercula arctica Purple Heron Ardea purpurea Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima Quail Coturnix coturnix Raven Corvus corax Razorbill Alca torda Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus Red Kite Milvus milvus Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus Red-throated Diver Gavia stellatta Redshank Tringa totanus Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus Redwing Turdus iliacus Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula Robin Erithacus rubecula Rock Dove and Feral Pigeon Columba livia Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus Rook Corvus frugilegus Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis Ruff Philomachus pugnax Sabine's Gull Larus sabini Sand Martin Riparia riparia Sanderling Calidris alba Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis Scaup Aythya marila Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Serin Serinus serinus Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis Shelduck Tadorna tadorna Shore Lark Eremophila alpestris Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus Shoveler Anas clypeata Skylark Alauda arvensis Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus Smew Mergus albellus Snipe Gallinago gallinago Song Thrush Turdus Philomelos Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia Spotted Crake Porzana porzana Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus Starling Sturnus vulgaris Stock Dove Columba oenas Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus Stonechat Saxicola torquata Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus Swallow Hirundo rustica Swift Apus apus Tawny Owl Strix aluco Teal Anas crecca Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Treecreeper Certhia familiaris Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula Turnstone Arenaria interpres Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta Water Rail Rallus aquaticus Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus Whinchat Saxicola rubetra White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla Whitethroat Sylvia communis Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus Wigeon Anas penelope Willow Tit Poecile montanus Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix Woodcock Scolopax rusticola Woodlark Lullula arborea Woodpigeon Columba palumbus Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Wryneck Jynx torquilla Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis