Tag Archives: Egretta alba

Great Egret

Ardea (Egretta) alba

At almost a metre tall with a wingspan of 1.7m and a weight of up to 1½kg, the Great Egret (or Great White Heron) is the largest of the white herons (or egrets) occurring in South Africa.

Great Egrets normally forage alone or in small, loosely associated groups, although they do sleep and breed in large colonies of up to a thousand pairs (often with other kinds of herons as well as cormorants and ibises). They are usually seen in flooded grasslands, along rivers and dams and at estuaries and lagoons, where they prey mainly on fish and frogs and occasionally on other vertebrates. Nests are built of sticks, over water in sturdy trees or reedbeds or on islands. In South Africa most breeding occurs during the rainy summer season. Both sexes incubate the clutch of up to 6 eggs for a little over 3 weeks, and then feed the chicks on regurgitated food until they are able to fly within two months of hatching.

Great Egrets occur on all the continents except Antarctica, and is commonly encountered over most of Africa south of the Sahara. Owing to its enormous distribution and large population, the IUCN considers the species of Least Concern. In South Africa, they are absent only from the arid west of the country.