Ardea modesta Click to enlarge image
Eastern Great Egret, 19.7 Centenial Park,1966 Image: Norman Chaffer
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    alba
    Genus
    Ardea
    Family
    Ardeidae
    Order
    Ciconiiformes
    Class
    Aves
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    70 cm to 90 cm

The Great Egret is the largest of the Australian egrets.

Identification

The Great Egret's overall plumage is white, and, for most of the year, when not breeding, the bill and facial skin are yellow. The feet are dark olive-grey or sooty black, as are the legs. During the breeding season, the bill turns mostly black and the facial skin becomes green. Also at this time, long hair-like feathers (nuptial plumes) hang across the lower back, and the legs become pinkish-yellow at the top. Young Great Egrets are similar to the adults, but have a blackish tip to the bill.

Habitat

Great Egrets prefer shallow water, particularly when flowing, but may be seen on any watered area, including damp grasslands. Great Egrets can be seen alone or in small flocks, often with other egret species, and roost at night in groups.

Distribution

Great Egrets occur throughout most of the world. They are common throughout Australia, with the exception of the most arid areas.

Feeding and diet

The Great Egret usually feeds alone. It feeds on molluscs, amphibians, aquatic insects, small reptiles, crustaceans and occasionally other small animals, but fish make up the bulk of its diet. The Great Egret usually hunts in water, wading through the shallows, or standing motionless before stabbing at prey. Birds have also been seen taking prey while in flight.

Breeding behaviours

The Great Egret breeds in colonies, and often in association with cormorants, ibises and other egrets. Both sexes construct the nest, which is a large platform of sticks, placed in a tree over the water. The previous years' nest may often be re-used. Both sexes also incubate the eggs and care for the young (usually two or three).

  • Breeding season: October to December in the south; March to May in the north.
  • Clutch size: 2 to 6
  • Incubation: 28 days
  • Time in nest: 40 days

References

  • Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
  • Pringle, J.D. 1985. The Waterbirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson/National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
  • Schodde, R. and Tideman, S.C. (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.