Bubulcus ibis (cattle egret)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Distribution Table
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Impact Summary
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Principal Source
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Bubulcus ibis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Preferred Common Name
- cattle egret
Other Scientific Names
- Ardea ibis
- Ardeola ibis
- Bulbucus ibis
International Common Names
- English: buff-backed heron; egret, cattle; elephant bird; hippopotomus egret; Indian cattle egret; rhinoceros egret
- Spanish: depulgabuey; garcilla bueyera; garcilla garrapatera; garcita de ganado; garrapatera; garrapatosa; garza de ganado; garza de vaquèra; garza ganadera
- French: héron garde-boeufs
Local Common Names
- Netherlands: Afrikaanse koereiger
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Bubulcus ibis are small stocky herons that associate with grazing species of mammals both domestic and wild. They have strong migratory instincts and disperse thousands of miles in the direction of their choosing. They are, for the most part, self-introduced. They have been observed 'feeding on' native species of birds. They are known to host ticks that could introduce and spread certain tick-borne diseases.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Ciconiiformes
- Family: Ardeidae
- Genus: Bubulcus
- Species: Bubulcus ibis
DescriptionTop of page
Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are relatively small, stocky herons, with thick short necks (shorter than body), completely white in colour, except when breeding, at which time they are adorned by orange buff plumes on their crown, back and foreneck. The bill is yellow with a heavy jowl of feathers underneath and the legs are yellow to green and the eyes are light yellow when not breeding. During the breeding season the bill and legs are pink to orange-red and the eyes become a shade of bright red and the lores become purple-pink. Juveniles have black bills. Males and females typically grow to between 51-56cm in length and weigh around 360g (Birds of New Zealand, 2005; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2003; and GSMFC, 2005).
DistributionTop of page
Native range: Africa, Asia, and Europe (Marion et al. 1993; and GBIF, 2006).
Known introduced range: Australasia-Pacific, North America, South America (Birds of New Zealand, 2005; Bergman et al. 2000; and Bella and Azevendo, 2004).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands||Present||Introduced|
|Serbia and Montenegro||Present||Native|
|United Kingdom||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Saint Lucia||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Safety hazard at Hewanorra Airport due to bird strike risk|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
HabitatTop of page
Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are common around marshes, farms, highway edges, pastures, ploughed fields and other altered habitats. They are strongly migratory and juveniles may disperse thousands of miles in random directions (GSMFC, 2005).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Brackish||Estuaries||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are opportunistic feeders and typically forage in flocks often associated with grazing animals and pick off parasites on the large herbivores. They may also follow tractors or lawnmowers waiting for insects and other prey items that are flushed out. They feed mostly on relatively large insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies and moths as well as spiders, frogs, crayfish, earthworms, snakes and rarely also fish, birds eggs and even nestling birds. B. ibis also scavenge for edible refuse in garbage dumps. Egrets will fly long distances to catch insects trying to escape fire (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2003; and GSMFC, 2005).
GSMFC (2005) reports that, "Bubulcus ibis are promiscuous, with males frequently engaging in extra-pair copulation. They begin to breed at age two or three (Kaufman, 1996). Cattle egrets are colonial breeders, and are frequently found in mixed colonies with other species of herons and egrets. Males establish pairing territories within the colonies and carry out elaborate displays for females. Nests are typically built in aquatic habitats in trees or shrubs of swamps or islands. Nesting materials typically include reeds, shrubs and elder twigs. Males bring most of the material for the nests and females build the nests. Nests are platforms or shallow bowls often with protruding green leafy twigs. Nest building and mating usually lasts three days. Immediately following mating, cattle egrets begin to lose their breeding colours."
Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) clutches vary from 1 to 9 pale blue eggs, but typically consist of 3 to 4 eggs. The incubation period can last between 21 and 26 days. Depending on food availability, of the three to four eggs laid, usually only one or two are raised successfully, with later hatching chicks at a decided disadvantage. Young begin to fly in 25-30 days and become independent after about 45 days. B. ibis often nest in colonies with other egrets. Nests are in trees and three white eggs are laid. Both adults incubate and feed chicks by regurgitation. Youngsters scramble onto nearby branches as early as two weeks but do not fly until six or seven weeks of age (Birds of New Zealand, 2005; and GSMFC, 2005).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Introduction pathways to new locations
Natural dispersal: The cattle egret Bubulcus ibis is able to disperse thousands of kilometers in a matter of days through its own migrational patterns and instincts (CAST, 2002).
Impact SummaryTop of page
ImpactTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
- Highly mobile locally
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Pest and disease transmission
UsesTop of page
Some ranchers rely on cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) for fly control more than they do pesticides (Ivory, 2000).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
The great egret (Ardea alba) also has dark legs and a yellow bill like the cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), but is much taller and longer necked (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2003).
The white juvenile of the little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) has greenish legs, and a dark bill with a bluish base (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2003).
The snowy egret, Egretta thula is slimmer, has a black bill, and yellow feet as opposed to adult cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis which have a yellow bill and yellow-green or pink legs. The legs and wings of snowy egrets are also relatively longer and the wing beat, when flying, is slower (GSMFC, 2005; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2003).
BibliographyTop of page
Bella, S. M., and S. M. Azevendo. 2004. Consideracoes sobre a ocorrencla da garca-vaqueira, Bubulcus ibis (Linnaeus) (Aves, Ardeidae), em Pernambuco, Brasil. Revista Brasileira de Zoologia 21(1):57-63.
Bergman, D. L., M. D. Chandler, and A. Locklear. 2000. The Economic Impact of Invasive Species to Wildlife Services Cooperators. Uman Conflicts with Wildlife Economic Considerations.
Birds of New Zealand. 2005. Cattle egret. New Zealand Birds Limited: Greytown, New Zealand. http://www.nzbirds.com/birds/cattleegret.html
Botkin, D. B. 2001. The Naturalness of Biological Invasions. Western North American Naturalist 61(3), pp. 261-266.
CAST (Council for Agricultural Science and Technology). 2002. Invasive Pest Species Impacts on Agricultural Production, Natural Resources, and the Environment. Issue Paper 20, March 2002.
CONABIO. 2008. Sistema de información sobre especies invasoras en México. Especies invasoras - Aves. Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad. Fecha de acceso. http://www.conabio.gob.mx/invasoras/index.php/Especies_invasoras_-_Aves
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2003. Cattle Egret. All About Birds Online Guide. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/programs/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Cattle_Egret.html
Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), 2005. Species: Bubulcus ibis (Linnaeus, 1758) http://data.gbif.org/species/13836145/
Goutner, V., H. Jerrentrup, S. Kazantzidis, and T. Nazirides. 1991. Occurrence of the cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis, in Greece. Rivista Italiana di Ornitologia. 61(3-4). 107-112.
Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC), 2005. Bubulcus ibis (Linnaeus, 1758). University of Southern Mississippi/College of Marine Sciences/Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. http://nis.gsmfc.org/nis_factsheet.php?toc_id=209
Heather, B. D. 1980. The Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis in New Zealand 1978-1980. Source Notornis. 29(4). 1982. 241-268.
Ivory, A. 2000. Bubulcus ibis. (On-line), Animal Diversity Web.
Jaksic, F.M. 1998. Vertebrate invaders and their ecological impacts in Chile. Biodiversity and Conservation 7, 1427±1445 (1998).
Jandres, M. V. 2002. Diagnóstico de las especies invasoras de fauna vertebrada y sus efectos sobre ecosistemas en El Salvador. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.
Krebs, E. A., D. R. Ramsey, and W. Hunte. 1994. The colonization of Barbados by cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) 1956-1990. Source Colonial Waterbirds. 17(1). 1994. 86-90.
Lovich, J. 1996. Wildlife as Weeds. California Exotic Pest Plant Council 1996 Symposium Proceedings: U.S. Geological Survey.
Marion, L., D. Brugiere, and P. Grisser. 1993. An invasion of nesting Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis in France in 1992. Alauda. 61(3). 1993. 129-136.
Orgeira, J. L. 1996. Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis at sea in the South Atlantic Ocean. Marine Ornithology 24: 57-58. Short communications 1996 57 (1996).
Scebba, S., G. Moschetti, M. Rocco, and R. Lenza. 1993. Observations of cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis, in Campania (S. Italy). Rivista Italiana di Ornitologia. 63(1). 1993. 124-125.
Smith, F. B. 1960. First Records of Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) in Guatemala.. Auk 77: pg 218 (General Notes).
Stone, C. P., and S. J. Anderson. 1988. Introduced Animals in Hawaii's Natural Areas. Vertebrate Pest Conference Proceedings collection: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference. University of Nebraska.
Sueur, F. 1993. First case of the cattle egret Bubulcus ibis nesting at Marquenterre (Somme, north-west France). Alauda. 61(3). 1993. 195-197.
Varnham, K. 2006. Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. JNCC Report 372. Peterborough: United Kingdom. http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-3660
ReferencesTop of page
Krauss U, 2012. 161 Invasive Alien Species present in Saint Lucia and their current status. Caribbean Alien Invasive Species Network (CIASNET), 12 pp. http://www.ciasnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/IAS-present-in-SLU-May-2012-revision.pdf
CABI Data Mining, 2001. CAB Abstracts Data Mining.,
CABI, Undated. CABI Compendium: Status inferred from regional distribution. Wallingford, UK: CABI
CABI, Undated a. CABI Compendium: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI
Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), 2011. Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). In: Global Invasive Species Database (GISD), Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland. http://www.issg.org/database
Krauss U, 2012. 161 Invasive Alien Species present in Saint Lucia and their current status. In: Caribbean Alien Invasive Species Network (CIASNET), 12 pp. http://www.ciasnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/IAS-present-in-SLU-May-2012-revision.pdf
ContributorsTop of page
Reviewed by: Expert review underway: Michel Gauthier-Clerc, Station Biologique de la Tour Du Valat France
Distribution MapsTop of page
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CABI Summary Records
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