Photo: An adult great egret with its young

Both great white egret parents raise their young, although sibling rivalry in the nest can result in death for some chicks.

Photograph by Tim Laman

Map

Map: Great egret range

Great Egret Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
15 years
Size:
Body, 37 to 41 in (94 to 104 cm); Wingspan, 4.3 to 4.8 ft (1.3 to 1.5 m)
Weight:
2.2 lbs (1 kg)
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Great Egret compared with adult man

This long-legged, S-necked white bird is found throughout the Americas and around much of the world. It is typically the largest white egret occurring anywhere in its range (only the white-colored form of the great blue heron is larger).

Great egrets are found near water, salt or fresh, and feed in wetlands, streams, ponds, tidal flats, and other areas. They snare prey by walking slowly or standing still for long periods, waiting for an animal to come within range of their long necks and blade-like bills. The deathblow is delivered with a quick thrust of the sharp bill, and the prey is swallowed whole. Fish are a dietary staple, but great egrets use similar techniques to eat amphibians, reptiles, mice, and other small animals.

These birds nest in trees, near water and gather in groups called colonies, which may include other heron or egret species. They are monogamous, and both parents incubate their three to four eggs. Young egrets are aggressive towards one another in the nest, and stronger siblings often kill their weaker kin so that not all survive to fledge in two to three weeks.

The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society and represents a conservation success story. The snowy white bird's beautiful plumage made it far too popular in 19th-century North America. Great egrets were decimated by plume hunters who supplied purveyors of the latest ladies' fashions. Their populations plunged by some 95 percent. Today the outlook is much brighter. The birds have enjoyed legal protection over the last century, and their numbers have increased substantially.

Bird Features

  • Illustration: Great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

  • Photo: A brown pelican

    Pelican

    Explore the pelican’s prodigious pouch. Find out how these famous fishers bring home the catch of the day.

  • Photo: Close-up of a duck

    Bird Pictures

    Get right up close to 12 colorful new bird galleries, featuring photos from My Shot members and classic art from the NG archives.

  • Photo: Close-up of a hummingbird

    Backyard Birds Quiz

    How much do you know about the feathered visitors to your backyard? Put your avian IQ to the test with this quiz.

Please select a test to run

Photos

  •  Picture of a Malayan tiger

    Pictures: Tiger Subspecies

    Scientists estimate only about 3,000 wild tigers are left in the entire world. Meet the subspecies and see what threats each is facing.

See more animal photos »

From the Magazine

  • Photo of the lions of the Vumbi pride.

    The Surprising Lives of Lions

    In case you missed it: See these breathtaking videos and photos from inside a wild Serengeti pride.

  • Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.