The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a cosmopolitan species of heron (family Ardeidae) found in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate zones. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Bubulcus, although some authorities regard its two subspecies as full species. Despite the similarities in plumage to the egrets of the genus Egretta, it is more closely related to the herons of Ardea. Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, it has undergone a rapid expansion in its distribution and successfully colonised much of the rest of the world.
It is a stocky white bird adorned with buff plumes in the breeding season which nests in colonies, usually near bodies of water and often with other wading birds. The nest is a platform of sticks in trees or shrubs. Unlike most other herons, it feeds in relatively dry grassy habitats, often accompanying cattle or other large mammals, since it catches insect and small vertebrate prey disturbed by these animals. Some populations of the Cattle Egret are migratory and others show post-breeding dispersal.
The adult Cattle Egret has few predators, but birds or mammals may raid its nests, and chicks may be lost to starvation, calcium deficiency or disturbance from other large birds. This species removes ticks and flies from cattle, but it can be a safety hazard at airfields, and has been implicated in the spread of tick-borne animal diseases.
The Cattle Egret nests in colonies, which are often, but not always, found around bodies of water. The colonies are usually found in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in swamps, or on small inland or coastal islands, and are sometimes shared with other wetland birds, such as herons, egrets, ibises and cormorants. The breeding season varies within South Asia. Nesting in northern India begins with the onset of monsoons in May. The breeding season in Australia is November to early January, with one brood laid per season. The North American breeding season lasts from April to October. In the Seychelles, the breeding season of the subspecies B.i. seychellarum is April to October.
The male displays in a tree in the colony, using an range of ritualised behaviours such as shaking a twig and sky-pointing (raising bill vertically upwards), and the pair forms over three or four days. A new mate is chosen in each season and when re-nesting following nest failure. The nest is a small untidy platform of sticks in a tree or shrub constructed by both parents. Sticks are collected by the male and arranged by the female, and stick-stealing is rife. The clutch size can be anywhere from one to five eggs, although three or four is most common. The pale bluish-white eggs are oval-shaped and measure 45 mm x 53 mm. (1.8–2.1 in) Incubation lasts around 23 days, with both sexes sharing incubation duties. The chicks are partly covered with down at hatching, but are not capable of fending for themselves; they become endothermic at 9–12 days and fully feathered in 13–21 days. They begin to leave the nest and climb around at 2 weeks, fledge at 30 days and become independent at around the 45th day.
The Cattle Egret engages in low levels of brood parasitism, and there are a few instances of Cattle Egret eggs being laid in the nests of Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons, although these eggs seldom hatch. There is also evidence of low levels of intraspecific brood parasitism, with females laying eggs in the nests of other Cattle Egrets. As much as 30% extra-pair copulations have been noted.
The dominant factor in nesting mortality is starvation. Sibling rivalry can be intense, and in South Africa third and fourth chicks inevitably starve. In the dryer habitats with fewer amphibians the diet may lack sufficient vertebrate content and may cause bone abnormalities in growing chicks due to calcium deficiency. In Barbados, nests were sometimes raided by vervet monkeys, and a study in Florida reported the Fish Crow and black rat as other possible nest raiders. The same study attributed some nestling mortality to Brown Pelicans nesting in the vicinity, which accidentally, but frequently, dislodged nests or caused nestlings to fall. In Australia, Torresian Crows, Wedge-tailed Eagles and White-bellied Sea Eagles take eggs or young, and tick infestation and viral infections may also be causes of mortality.
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PeterDF (405) 2012-09-04 5:59
A stunning shot of this beautiful Cattle Egret here. The lighting on this one is just superb, as it highlights the beauty of the wonderful, golden plumes, and makes the rest of the body look almost creamy white. And that fact that a catch has been made here makes it all the more interesting. I really think you should have a book done with all of your photos from your area...as they are really excellent. Very nicely done!
ACL1978 (5775) 2012-09-07 21:46
I'm really surprised this one has not received more comments, Zahoor. This is an extremely well lit and clear shot in beautiful light of this bird at a perfect moment - triumphant, with frog in beak, isolated well against the blurred BG. Beautiful work.