Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Author: Bibitayo Ayobami Owolabi. Department of Wildlife and Ecotourism Management. Osun State University, Osogbo, Nigeria. ORCID:


The cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a worldwide heron (family Ardeidae) that can be found across the tropics, subtropics, and warm temperate zones. Although some authors consider its two subspecies, the western cow egret and the eastern cattle egret, to be full species, it is the only member of the monotypic genus Bubulcus. Despite its plumage’s resemblance to egrets of the genus Egretta, it is more closely linked to Ardean herons. Originally native to portions of Asia, Africa, and Europe, it has expanded rapidly in distribution over the last century, successfully colonizing much of the remainder of the world.


During the breeding season, it is a white bird with buff plumes. It builds colonies near bodies of water, generally with other wading birds. A platform of sticks in trees or shrubs serves as the nest. Cattle egrets take advantage of drier, more open habitats than other heron species. Seasonally inundated grasslands, pastures, farmlands, wetlands, and rice paddies are among their feeding habitats.

Fig 1: Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) foraging (Photos: B. Owolabi)

They frequently accompany cattle or other large mammals, capturing bug and small vertebrate prey that these animals have disturbed. Some populations migrate, while others disperse after reproducing.

They build their nests in colonies that are commonly found near bodies of water. The colonies are frequently found around lakes or rivers, in swamps, or on small inland or coastal islands, and are occasionally shared with other wetland birds like herons, egrets, ibises, and cormorants. The breeding season varies by country and continent, but it generally takes place from April through October.

The male performs ritualized behaviors in the colony, such as shaking a twig and extending his bill vertically upwards to the sky, and the pair develops after 3–4 days. Each season, as well as when re-nesting after a failed nest, a new mate is chosen. The nest is a small, unkempt platform of sticks built in a tree or bush by both parents.


Insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), beetles, and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, fish, crayfish, small snakes, lizards, and earthworms, are among the prey of the cattle egret.  The species is most commonly found with cattle and other large grazing and browsing animals, and it catches small animals that are disturbed by the mammals. Cattle egret foraging success is substantially higher when foraging near a large animal than when foraging alone, according to studies. It has been proven that foraging with cattle is 3.6 times more successful in collecting prey than foraging alone.


IUCN., 2007. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Version 2015-4. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Switzerland.

Silva, M.P.; Coria, N.E.; Favero, M.; Casaux, R.J. (1995). “New Records of Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, Blacknecked Swan Cygnus melancoryhyphus and White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis from the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica” (PDF). Marine Ornithology23: 65–66.