New York Natural Heritage Program
Great Egret
Ardea alba Linnaeus, 1758

Identifying Characteristics [-]
The Great Egret is a large, white heron that is 94-104 cm in length, has a wingspread of 140 cm, and body mass of 1kg (Handcock and Kushlan 1984 cited in McCrimmon et al. 2001). Other defining features include long, black legs and feet, a long neck, and a long, straight, yellow bill (NGS 1983 cited in Nature Serve 2007). During breeding season, long, white plumes trail from the throat and the rump (Budliger and Kennedy 2005). Great Egrets are known to nest in colonies with others of the same species or other waterbird species (Nesbitt et al. 1982 and Spendelow and Patton 1988 cited in McCrimmon et al. 2001). Nests are placed high in trees and shrubs (McCrimmon et al. 2001). Some nests are located on the ground but most are 4-12 feet above the ground. The clutch size is 1-6 eggs, with 3-4 eggs more common in northern climates; incubation is 23-25 days, and young fledge at about 6 weeks (Harrison 1979 cited in Nature Serve 2007). Eggs are a pale blue-green (Budliger and Kennedy 2005). Common vocalizations include a rapid, low-pitched "cuk-cuk-cuk" (Budliger and Kennedy 2005) and other low croaks such as a gravelly "kroow" and a grating "karrr" (Sibley 2000).

Diet [-]
Great Egrets eat fishes, amphibians, snakes, snails, crustaceans, insects, and small mammals. Fish species Carassius auratus, Cyprinus carpio, and Notropis sp. are among the most common in their diet in Lake Erie (Hoffman 1978 cited in McCrimmon et al.2001). Great Egrets are stand-and-wait predators (Budliger and Kennedy 2005) and their foraging habitat includes marshes, shallow water of ponds, and fields (Palmer 1962 cited in Nature Serve 2007).
Great Egret Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
They breed from May through June on Long Island (Budliger and Kennedy 2005). They are rare in NY before April and after November.
Present Breeding
The time of year you would expect to find Great Egret present (blue shading) and breeding (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
    The Great Egret is 38 cm longer than the Snowy Egret, so their greatest difference is size (Nature Serve 2007). In addition, the Snowy Egret has a black bill and yellow feet, while the Great Egret has a yellow bill and black feet (Budliger and Kennedy 2005).