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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Cattle Egret -- Bubulcus ibis

RANGE: Breeds locally from northwestern and central California, southern Idaho, northern Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, southern Saskatchewan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, southern Ontario, northern Ohio, and Maine south to Florida, West Indies, and Central and South America. After breeding, disperses north to southern British Columbia, southcentral Canada, and the Maritime Provinces. Winters throughout most of breeding range.

STATUS: Common; a recent immigrant from the Old World, range is rapidly expanding.

HABITAT: Frequents a great variety of habitats including pastureland, freshwater and salt marshes, fallow and plowed fields, orchards, citrus groves, road shoulders and median strips, vacant lots, lawns, and other open grassy areas. Least shy and least aquatic of North American herons; usually found in close association with large hoofed mammals, particularly cattle, and often perching on their backs.


NEST: Nests colonially, often with other herons and ibises, in both freshwater and saltwater habitats, on islands, in willows and tamarisks along watercourses, occasionally in cypress swamps with a lower growth of buttonbush, or in scrub oaks in marshlands. Also nests in redcedar, red maple, and in pines. Usually builds nests at heights of 5 to 12 feet, up to 30 feet in heronries.

FOOD: Usually feeds in dry or moist open pastures among livestock, capturing insects and other prey disturbed as cattle walk and graze. May glean ticks or bugs off cattle. Consumes grasshoppers, leopard and cricket frogs, spiders, and some toads.

REFERENCES: Palmer 1962, Sykes in Farrand 1983a, Terres 1980.

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