Photo Credit: Terry Hartley
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Bulbulcus ibis
OTHER NAMES: Cow Bird
DESCRIPTION: The cattle egret (Bulbulcus ibis) belongs to the large Ciconiiformes order of colonial wading birds, which includes various species of herons, ibises, egrets, and bitterns. Other water birds found in association with the cattle egret include cormorants and anhingas. The adult cattle egret is typically 20 inches in height, white with buff patches on the head, breast and back, and has a reddish bill and legs. Immature cattle egrets are all-white with a yellowish bill and dark-colored legs. A characteristic red eye distinguishes cattle egrets from other species of herons.
FEEDING HABITS: As their name implies, the birds frequently associate with cattle and have a mutually beneficial relationship. They can often be found on the backs of grazing cows feeding on many forms of insect life that often parasitize cattle. The cattle reap the benefits of reduced insect problems and the birds feed easily and undisturbed. Additionally, the abundant insect life found in growing cattle pastures affords a rich supply of food. Cattle egrets commonly forage in wet fields, marsh edges, and even recently cultivated agricultural fields.
Colony sites may often be used for years, with the birds returning, roosting, and nesting in the exact location annually. Satellite colonies adjacent to established colonies will frequently spring up. Colony life is usually longer in swamp habitat than in upland habitat types. This is because of the tremendous amount of droppings produced at colony sites. High concentrations of droppings will kill much of the vegetation in upland sites and often prompts the birds to move the colony. Swamp colony sites are not so adversely affected by large amounts of fecal matter, and therefore are generally more stable and longer lived.
Harper and Row’s Complete Guide to North American Wildlife – Eastern Edition. 1981. Harper and Row Publishers, Inc,
Author: Bill Gray, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries