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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Great Egret -- Casmerodius albus
(formerly Common Egret)


RANGE: Breeds from southern Oregon and southern Idaho south to southwestern Arizona, and from southeastern Saskatchewan, southwestern Manitoba, southern Ontario, and Maine south through the Gulf States to South America. Disperses after breeding to the north into Washington, Michigan, southern Ontario and Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces. Winters from northern California across southern United States, and south along Atlantic Coast from New Jersey through South America.

STATUS: Common throughout range.

HABITAT: Inhabits streams, ponds, lakes, rice fields, freshwater and saltwater marshes and lagoons, and mud flats. After feeding during day, flies singly or in small groups to a communal roost in trees or shrubbery. Gregarious during all seasons.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Open water or wetland habitats near woodlands.

NEST: Nests singly or in colonies, often with other herons, ibises, wood storks, cormorants, and anhingas. Usually nests in woods or thickets near water so long as there is adequate support for the nest. Builds nest from 1 to 40 feet above ground, depending on substrate. Sensitive to disturbance by people when nesting and may flush at the slightest provocation.

FOOD: Forages in freshwater, brackish, or saltwater swamps, along streams, and in ponds. Consumes fishes, frogs, salamanders, snakes, snails, crustaceans, insects, and small mammals.

REFERENCES: Grinnell and Miller 1944, Low and Mansell 1983, Palmer 1962, Sykes in Farrand 1983a, Terres 1980.


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