Text Size: A  A  A

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.


The great egret grows to about 39 inches tall with a 55 inch wingspan. It has white plumage with long, delicate plumes on its back during breeding season. It holds its neck in a graceful S-shape. It has a long, yellow, spear-like bill and black legs and feet.


Tidal marshes and wetlands, as well as ponds and mud flats.


Visits the Chesapeake Bay region from spring through autumn.


Great egrets eat fish, invertebrates, amphibians, aquatic insects and other small animals. To hunt, they silently stalks their prey in shallow waters, then plunge their bill into the water to capture it. They also steal much of their food from other, smaller herons and egrets.


Crows, vultures and raccoons prey upon eggs and young.


The great egret flies with slow, heavy wingbeats that push the bird up and down.


This bird's call is a low, hoarse croak or kuk-kuk-kuk.

Great Egret courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen, Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Great egrets nest and breed 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. Egrets usually begin arriving at the breeding colonies in mid-March; new breeders continue to arrive at the colonies into May. Their nests are made of sticks and located high in the canopy of a tree. Females will lay 3 to 5 eggs from early April to mid-June. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 24 days, and young fledge about 2 to 3 weeks after hatching. Most adults leave the breeding colonies between late August and mid-October. Great egrets usually live for approximately 15 years.

Other Facts:

  • Great egrets are the largest of the Bay region’s three species of egrets.
  • They are highly aggressive toward other birds during courtship, nesting and feeding.
  • Great egrets were hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th century for their plumage. The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was founded to protect birds for being killed for their feathers.

Sources and Additional Information:

Click tabs to swap between type and habitat.

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved