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Great Egret

Ardea alba

Great egrets visit the Chesapeake Bay region's marshes and wetlands from spring through autumn. (docentjoyce/Flickr)
Great egrets visit the Chesapeake Bay region's marshes and wetlands from spring through autumn. (docentjoyce/Flickr)

The great egret is a large, white wading bird with long, lacy plumes on the back. It visits the Chesapeake Bay region’s marshes and wetlands from spring through autumn.


  • White plumage
  • Long, yellow, spear-like bill
  • Holds its neck in a graceful S-shape
  • Black legs and feet
  • Long, delicate plumes on the back during breeding season
  • Grows to about 39 inches tall with a wingspan of 55 inches


  • Lives in tidal marshes and wetlands, as well as ponds and mud flats


  • Visits the Chesapeake Bay region from spring through autumn


  • Eats fish, invertebrates, amphibians, aquatic insects and other small animals
  • Silently stalks its prey in shallow waters, then plunges its bill into the water to capture it
  • Steals much of its food from other, smaller herons and egrets


  • Crows, vultures and raccoons prey upon eggs and young


  • Flies with slow, heavy wingbeats that push the bird up and down


  • Call is a low, hoarse croak or kuk-kuk-kuk
Great Egret courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen, Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Nests and breeds in colonies (called rookeries) with other egrets, herons and ibises. One of the Bay’s largest breeding colonies is in Canoe Neck Creek in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
  • Usually begins arriving at the breeding colonies in mid-March. New breeders continue to arrive at the colonies into May.
  • Nests are made of sticks and located high in the canopy of a tree
  • Females lay 3-5 eggs from early April to mid-June. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 24 days.
  • Young fledge about 2-3 weeks after hatching
  • Most adults leave the breeding colonies between late August and mid-October
  • Usually lives for approximately 15 years

Other Facts:

  • The largest of three species of the Bay region’s three species of egrets
  • Highly aggressive toward other birds during courtship, nesting and feeding

Sources and Additional Information:

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