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Bubulcus ibis (Cattle egret)

Bosluisvoël [Afrikaans]; Veereier [Afrikaans]; Ilanda [Xhosa]; iLanda (also applied to Great egret), inGevu, umLindankomo [Zulu]; Esingangombe (also applied to Cattle egret) [Kwangali]; Leholosiane (generic term for egret), Leholotsiane [South Sotho]; Madšadipere [North Sotho]; Kafudzamombe [Shona]; Dzandza, Munyangana, Muthecana, Nyonimahlopi [Tsonga]; Manawane, Mmamoleane, Modisane [Tswana]; Koereiger [Dutch]; Héron garde-boeufs [French]; Kuhreiher [German]; Garça-boieira [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Ardeidae

Bubulcus ibis (Cattle egret) Bubulcus ibis (Cattle egret)
Cattle egret male in breeding plumage, Robben Island, South Africa
. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Cattle egret male in breeding plumage. [photo Callie de Wet ©]
Bubulcus ibis (Cattle egret) Bubulcus ibis (Cattle egret)
Cattle Egret, Strandfontein Sewrage Works, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©] Cattle Egret, Strandfontein Sewrage Works, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Distribution and habitat

Historically confined to Asia and tropical Africa, but since the late 19th Century it has spread across the world, to southern Europe, north-eastern South America, Australia, New Zealand and sub-Saharan Africa. It is very common across most of southern Africa, while more scarce in the arid parts of Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape. It generally prefers open grassland, grassy savanna, man-made fields and agricultural land, occasionally moving to the seashore.

Distribution of Cattle egret in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Generally resident in southern Africa, however it can be locally nomadic, moving in response to rainfall and sometimes dispersing over large distances.


It mainly eats insects, doing most of its foraging by walking on the ground, chasing down and stabbing its prey. As its name suggests, it also associates with livestock and other large mammals, perching on their backs to glean ectoparasites and hawk insects that the mammal disturbs when moving around. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Invertebrates
    • insects
    • arachnids
      • ticks
        • Boophilus decoratus (Blue ticks)
        • Amblyomma hebraeum (Bont ticks)
    • worms
    • molluscs
  • Vertebrates
    • amphibians
      • Rana (frogs)
      • Xenopus laevis (Common platanna)
      • Bufo regularis (Common toad)
      • tadpoles
    • fish
    • reptiles
    • small mammals
    • birds


  • Monogamous, colonial nester, breeding in colonies of up to about 10 000 nests. Other waterbird species are often present in these colonies, although they are always greatly outnumbered by Cattle egrets.
  • The nest is built solely by the female with material delivered by the male, consisting of an untidy platform of dry sticks, reeds and weed stems, sometimes lined with grass. It is typically placed in a tree or reedbed over water, often close to touching the nests of other Cattle egrets.
  • Egg-laying season is from June-July in Namibia, but from August-April elsewhere in southern Africa, peaking from September-December.
  • It lays 1-7 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 22-26 days.
  • The chicks are fed and brooded by both parents, who defend them closely for the first 10 days of their lives. They leave the nest at roughly 20 days old, learning to fly at 30 days old and becoming fully independent about 15 days later.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.