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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNA

Agency Status


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General Description
A gregarious, white, chicken-sized bird easily recognized by its foraging association with grazing animals. Compared to similar-sized herons and egrets, it is short-legged and thick-necked; throat appears swollen (Telfair 2006).

For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.

Species Range
Uncommon Migrant

Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 48

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


(direct evidence "B")

(indirect evidence "b")

No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")

(regular observations "W")

(at least one obs. "w")


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

The Cattle Egret is the most terrestrial heron; widespread and remarkably adapted to many habitats, both terrestrial and aquatic. Best described as a species adapted to naturally disturbed as well as to highly disrupted, converted landscapes, such as typical cattle and farm land and urban areas (parks, school grounds, sports fields, road edges, lawns, and city dumps and refuse areas) (Telfair 2006).

Food Habits
Diverse diet which varies greatly according to foraging habitat, feeding opportunity, and prey availability. Mostly grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, flies, frogs, and noctuid moths (Telfair 2006).

Reproductive Characteristics
Nests in multi-species colonies established by native herons, egrets, ibises etc. and uses a wide variety of sites and substrates. Nests in live and dead vegetation. Eggs typically subelliptical, light sky blue in color. Clutch size ranges 1 to 9 eggs, averaging 3 to 4. Most first broods occur from early May to early June, depending on weather conditions (Telfair 2006).

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Citation for data on this website:
Cattle Egret — Bubulcus ibis.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on October 27, 2016, from