A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis

Originally an Old-World species. Cattle Egret has gained a US foothold, mostly in the southern states, from Florida (where it was first recorded in 1941) to California. First recorded in Sonoma County in the mid-1970s, according to Bolander and Parmeter. First recorded verified breeding in the county is from 1995, according to the Breeding Bird Atlas of 1995. Less common than the other egrets we see. Present mostly in the fall and winter months, but easily seen in the county during the breeding season (March to early June) at the "Ninth Street Rookery," in Santa Rosa. Unlike other egrets, not a wader. Prefers dry, grassy areas, where it's most often seen when not building or attending a nest in a tree. In its original habitat, follows herds of large, grazing animals to eat the insects they turn up while foraging. In the US, often associated with domesticated herds of horses and cattle. Sometimes seen riding on the backs of such animals. 

A chunky white egret with a comparatively short neck. All white in non-breeding plumage, with a short crest and heavy, comparatively short, yellow bill. Dark or yellowish legs--leg color is variable. In breeding plumage, the bill turns red-orange at the base, making it look like a piece of candy corn. Lores becomes purplish. The crest is festooned with longer feathers and the bird acquires breeding plumes on its back and at the base of the throat, like Great Egret (Ardea alba) and Snowy Egret (Egretta thula). The crest and these breeding plumes become washed with orange-beige. Legs turn pink, but leg color is variable. Juveniles have dark bills but the bill turns yellow by the end of the first summer. Compact look in flight, with toes projecting only a little past the tail. Breeds colonially--in Sonoma County, notably at the "Ninth Street Rookery," as noted above, along with other similar species.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 25

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 149

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 187

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 112

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 114

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 38

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 64

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 154

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 187

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 48

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 86

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 112

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 59

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 92

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Cattle Egret



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Cattle Egret, breeding plumage, "Ninth Street Rookery," Santa Rosa, March 28, 2012