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Great Egret

Ardea alba

Length: 37 to 41 inches Wingspan: 56 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Large size, all white plumage, yellow bill, black legs and feet

Great Egret - Ardea albaGreat Egrets are the largest of the white egrets found in the state.  A very widespread species, Great Egrets are found on every continent except Antarctica. After playing a key role in it's recovery after nearly being exterminated by 1900, the Audubon Society chose the Great Egret as its symbol.  Note the long lacy plumage in the breeding bird on the right, and the green lores of another breeding bird in the photo on the bottom.  Non breeding birds lack the lacy plumage and green lores in front of the eyes.


Sloughs, ponds, marshes, and flooded pastures.  Nests in thickets or trees, usually adjacent to water, but occasionally further away from water.


Mostly fish.  Also eats crustaceans, frogs, salamanders, snakes, and aquatic insects.  May chase grasshoppers in open fields.


 Forages by standing still or walking slowly, waiting for prey to approach, and the stabbing it with a quick thrust of the bill.  While they primarily feed along wetlands and water features, they will occasionally also feed in open fields and even follow cattle like Cattle Egrets.


Mid-June to July.  They usually nest in colonies, sometimes mixed with other wading birds, but they will also sometimes build solitary nests.  The nest is a platform of sticks built in a tree or tall shrub.  The female usually lays 3 or 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge after about 6 or 7 weeks.


Bold throaty croaking or repeated cuk, cuk.


Great Egrets in the interior of the United States are nearly all migrants, moving southward or towards the coastlines in winter. Some Great Egrets may be present at all season along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the US, as well as portions of the desert Southwest and California. They are found along the coastlines of Mexico, central America, and South America at all seasons, as well as the Caribbean.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Great Egret sightings

Similar Species:

We have three "white egrets" that are commonly found in South Dakota (primarily in eastern South Dakota), plus another species that could potentially be tricky (but is rare in the state). Click here for more information on differentiating the white egrets.

Snowy Egret 1 - Egretta thula Great and Snowy Egrets 3 - Egretta thula and Ardea alba Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea
Snowy Egret Snowy Egret (next to larger Great Egret) Cattle Egret Little Blue Heron (juvenile)

Conservation Status:

Was nearly extinct by 1900 due to demand for it's plumes, along with many of the egrets and herons.  Thanks to early conservation efforts by groups like the Audubon Society, they (and other egrets) have gradually recovered since.  Today the IUCN lists the Great Egret as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

April 25th, 2004 - Kingsbury County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Great Egret photos.

Audio File Credits:


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Great Egret - Range map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant and summer resident in the northeastern part of the state.  Uncommon elsewhere in the east, rare in the west.

Additional Great Egret Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Great Egret 1 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 2 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 3 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 4 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 5 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 6 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 7 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 8 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 9 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 10 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 11 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 12 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 13 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 14 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 15 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 16 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 17 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 18 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 19 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 20 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 21 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 22 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 23 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 24 - Ardea albaGreat Egret 25 - Ardea albaGreat and Snowy Egrets 1 - Egretta thula and Ardea albaGreat and Snowy Egrets 2 - Egretta thula and Ardea albaGreat and Snowy Egrets 3 - Egretta thula and Ardea albaGreat Egret 26 - Ardea alba