Cattle egret

Bubulcus ibis

This small heron, member of the Ardeidae family, owes its name to its habit of sitting on cattle. It feeds on the insects that irritate cattle and that they swish off as they walk along. As well as insects, they also eat small crustaceans, fish, amphibians and tiny mammals.

The adaptability of this species means the population is increasing, but more and more industry and the draining of wetlands in Europe are a limitation to this growth.

Natural habit

From central and southern North America to Chile and Argentina, Africa, Madagascar, south and southeast Europe, southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand 

Cattle egret
  • Distribution / Resident
  • Breeding
  • Wintering
  • Subspecies

Risk level

  • Extint
  • Extint in the wild
  • Critically endangered
  • In Danger
  • Vulnerable
  • Near threatened
  • Minor concern
  • Insufficient data
  • Not evaluated
Least Concern



Physical characteristics

340-390 g
Birth Weight:
46-56 cm
More than 10 years


Social life


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Discover how they are



Small Ardeidae some 50 cm long and weighing some 500 grams, distinguishable from other egrets on the Iberian Peninsula due to their more robust appearance and shorter legs. It has core white plumage during the winter, which takes on orange tones and a bright golden wattle on the chest, head and dorsal during breeding season. It has a robust yellowish beak, which becomes much more orange in the spring.


It owes its name to remaining among cattle to capture insects that land on and even bother them, alighting and riding on their bodies.


A tropical and subtropical species, they are distributed in small colonies around the world, in pasture areas and semi-flooded rice paddies in warm Mediterranean climates. The subspecies that lives in the Mediterranean is the same one found throughout Africa and that colonised the Americas during the last century.


In addition to insects, their diets include small crustaceans, fish, amphibians and micromammals.


Although a specific breeding season cannot be defined for tropical populations, outside the tropics they tend to start nesting at the end of winter, to have their first chicks at the onset of spring. While they are considered monogamous, recent studies reveal a bit of promiscuity, which tends to increase males' reproductive rates. They nest in colonies, generally along with other species, especially Ardeidae, but also with storks, ibises and cormorants. They nest in reed beds, bushes and trees, with some tolerance to areas with direct human influence, making them from branches and diverse types of vegetation. Females tend to lay between two and five pale blue eggs, sometimes green and white, incubated by both members of the couple from 21 to 26 days.


Sedentary throughout their area of distribution, large movements are only seen between breeding and evening rest areas and their feeding grounds, which may be several kilometres away. The scattering of young birds expands their range of influence significantly.

Status and conservation programs

Thanks to their plasticity, they are one of the few Ardeidae that have expanding populations, although industrialisation and the desiccation of European wetlands are a significant limitation for their populations. Despite everything, it is almost certainly the Ardeidae with the largest numbers on the planet, a fact that has caused conflicts with humans in grazing and nesting areas.


The Barcelona Zoo has been breeding this species for many years and has released them at several different natural parks in Catalonia. In addition, there is a wild colony of Ardeidae at the Zoo, in which some cattle egret couples breed every year (at present, the number of couples varies from 30 to 50).