Bubulcus ibis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Pelecaniformes > Ardeidae
This small white member of the heron family is a recent colonist which, as the name suggests, often associates with livestock.
Cattle Egrets were first reported to have bred in Britain in 2008, with two pairs nesting in Somerset; more breeding attempts have followed and there is now a slowly expanding population in southern Britain. The colonisation that is taking place is likely supported by climate change and Cattle Egret is one of a number of heron species newly added to our breeding avifauna.
Individuals are reported from a wider area during the winter months, with records from as far north as the Scottish mainland. As might be expected for a formerly southern species, south-west England and the south of Ireland do well for records of wintering birds.
Cattle Egret identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Cattle Egret.
A white heron in the UK is likely to be a Little or Great White Egret. Occasionally Cattle Egrets turn up, and some even stay to breed. How can you pick one of these wanderers out?
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Cattle Egret, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
|UK Birds of Conservation Concern||Amber listed|
|Species of European Conservation Concern||Least Concern|
|IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (global)||Least Concern|
|Schedule 1 license required (to disturb)||No|
|Birds Directive Annex 1||No|
The Cattle Egret first bred in the UK in 2008 but breeding was not confirmed again until 2017. Subsequently, the numbers of pairs and the number of sites has continued to increase rapidly and there were 10–19 breeding pairs in 2019 (Eaton et al. 2021). It is anticipated that numbers will continue to increase in the coming years.
The maps show Cattle Egret distribution at the beginning of an unprecedented influx into Britain & Ireland in late 2007. Since then, Cattle Egrets have become established as a breeding species in several counties and wintering birds are present in many areas of southern Britain, sometimes including flocks of tens or hundreds of birds.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
European Distribution Map
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+7300%|
Cattle Egret is a former rare vagrant, now established breeding species and can be seen in all months of the year.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Cattle Egret, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
Sample sizes are too small to report Productivity and Nesting statistics for this species.
Sample sizes are too small to report Biometrics for this species.
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: EC | 5-letter code: CATEG | Euring: 1110|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Cattle Egret from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
The colonisation of the UK has followed considerable range expansion to the north over the last 30 years, through France and also into The Netherlands (Keller et al. 2020). The causes of this range expansion are unclear but it is in line with similar recent range expansions by the Great White Egret and Spoonbill and the earlier colonisation of the UK by the Little Egret. Though speculative, it is possible that climate change has helped facilitate these range changes.
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