The great egret (Ardea alba) also known as the common egret, large egret, or great white egret is a large, widely distributed egret.
It is found on all continents exept Antarctica.
The great egret is generally a very successful species with a large and expanding range, occurring mostly in temperate and tropical habitats.
There are 4 subspecies of the great egret.
Great egrets have a lifespan of about 15 years in the wild and about 22 in captivity.
Great egrets are up to 1 meters (3.3 ft) tall, and have a wingspan of about 1.3 to 1.7 meters (51 to 67 in). Body mass can range from 700 to 1,500 g (1.5 to 3.3 lb), with an average around 1,000 g (2.2 lb).
They are completely white with a long orange yellow bill and dark gray legs.
During flight their neck is usually in an “S” shaped curve.
The great egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with colder winters.
The great egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, feeding mainly on fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally small reptiles and insects, spearing them with its long, sharp bill most of the time by standing still and allowing the prey to come within its striking distance of its bill, which it uses as a spear. It often waits motionless for prey, or slowly stalks its victim.
They are diurnal feeders and at dusk they gather from surrounding areas to form communal roosts.
The species breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands, preferably at height of 3 to 12 meters (10 to 40 feet). Great egrets mate with one mate each season. Males are in charge of finding a home and attracting a female.
Nests are a platform made of sticks, twigs, and stems built high up in a tree. Females lay 3-5 pale greenish blue eggs. The incubation period of the eggs is 23–26 days. Both males and females aid in incubating and feeding their young.
Great egrets are very territorial, and will defend their nests, mates, and young. Young hurons often follow their parents on long journeys. On these trips they often take food from smaller herons.
The great egret is not normally a vocal bird; it gives a low, hoarse croak when disturbed, and at breeding colonies, it often gives a loud croaking cuk cuk cuk and higher-pitched squawks.
Its scientific name comes from Latin ardea, “heron”, and alba, “white”.
Prior to the 20th century, the population of great egrets was nearly decimated by the demand for their lacey plumage for women’s hats and other fashionable garments.
With great concern for the welfare of great egrets, legal restrictions were placed on the harvesting of this animal.
Great egrets were placed under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. By the mid 1900’s populations of great egrets were steadily on the rise. Today, populations are doing well.
The great egret is depicted on the reverse side of a 5-Brazilian reais banknote.
It also features on the New Zealand $2 coin and on the Hungarian 5-forint coin.
In Belarus, a commemorative coin has the image of a great egret.
The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.