Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis
Range Map

Originally native to parts of Asia and Africa, the Cattle Egret has undergone a rapid expansion. In its resent-day distribution, they have colonized much of the rest of the world. This expansion was first noted in the 1800s. In 1933, they expanded their range from Africa by reaching northern South America. By the early 1950s they had crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and by the early 1960s they reached Texas and the southeastern states of the USA. They continue to expand their range to this day.

We know Cattle Egrets by various names around the world, depending on the large herbivores they follow. Sometimes the birds ride on the backs of their hosts, catching the bugs kicked up during grazing. Yet these versatile birds have learned that fires will move invertebrate creatures out of hiding. When they see smoke, they will fly towards the fires to exploit this food source.

In 2013, I subscribed to a membership pass for the San Diego Zoo, knowing it would give me access to the wild birds that nest at the Safari Park near Escondido (California). I was especially interested in the heron rookeries in the park. Cattle Egrets were among the more interesting photo subjects I found nesting within view from the public areas.

Today, science recognises two subspecies of Cattle Egret:

  • B. i. ibis lives in Africa, southern Europe, and the Americas.
  • B. i. coromandus lives in India, southeast Asia, and east to Australia and New Zealand.

Most of my encounters with Cattle Egrets have been in southern California, especially at the Salton Sea. But during my second visit to Texas in 2021, I met a single bird during a visit to the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands near McAllen. Later, in 2022, I returned to Texas for a fall visit. There, I found them on the Gulf Coast from south Texas to High Island. My fondest memories of them came during visits to the rookery at the Smith Oaks Sanctuary. Watching them feed their begging adult-sized juvenile offspring was especially entertaining.

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