During the non-breeding season, both sexes of Cattle Egret are white with yellow bill and legs. Breeding individuals have an orange bill and legs, a reddish eye, purple lores (the space between the eyes and bill), and buff-orange feathers on the top of the head, lower neck, and back. 51 cm (20 in) in length.
Breeding season for the Cattle Egret begins in early April and extends until late July, with a peak in June. Colonial nesting is common for this species, and a single colony can have thousands of birds. The male collects nesting material such as sticks, twigs, and vines, while the female builds the nest. The nest is usually 1-9 m (3-30 feet) above the ground in a tree or shrub. the female lays 3-4 eggs, which she and the male incubate for approximately 25 days. The young are semi-altricial. They are brooded by the female for approximately two weeks, and leave the nest about a week later. The female cares for the young for a total of approximately 45 days, after which they become independent.
Cattle pastures are a common feeding area for the Cattle Egret, but it can also be found in many other grassy areas and along the edges of ponds. It feeds by picking small insects and other invertebrates off the ground or off the bodies of cattle.
In the United States, the year-round range of the Cattle Egret is mostly limited to the extreme southern areas, but during the breeding season this species can be found almost anywhere in the lower 48 states. Most commonly, breeding birds occur in the midwestern and eastern United States. In the southeast, the Cattle Egret is found in the coastal areas, with high breeding populations in most of Florida and southern Louisiana. In Georgia, the Cattle Egret occurs in low breeding densities in the southeastern third of the state, and winters in extreme coastal Georgia.
The Cattle Egret is originally from Africa. It moved into South America, and finally North America, in the mid-1800s. Because of increasing deforestation and increasing cattle farming, the range of the Cattle Egret has increased, moving north and west from its introduction points in Florida and Texas. The species is neither Federally nor state-listed as needing any special conservation attention.
Similar species include the Snowy Egret and the white phase of the Little Blue Heron. The Snowy Egret is larger than the Cattle Egret, and has black legs and bill and yellow feet. The Little Blue Heron in the white phase has dark wing tips which the Cattle Egret lacks. During the breeding season the Cattle Egret also has buff-orange feathers on its head, lower neck, and back, which both the Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron do not have.