Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Bubulcus ibis
(cattle egret)

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Datasheet

Bubulcus ibis (cattle egret)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Threatened Species
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Bubulcus ibis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • cattle egret
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Aves
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • 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...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Bubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult flying, with nesting material. Dallas, Texas, USA. June, 2011.
TitleAdult
CaptionBubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult flying, with nesting material. Dallas, Texas, USA. June, 2011.
Copyright©Manjith Kainickara/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 2.0
Bubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult flying, with nesting material. Dallas, Texas, USA. June, 2011.
AdultBubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult flying, with nesting material. Dallas, Texas, USA. June, 2011.©Manjith Kainickara/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 2.0
Bubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult, foraging. Morey, Texas, USA. June, 2007.
TitleAdult
CaptionBubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult, foraging. Morey, Texas, USA. June, 2007.
Copyright©Rick Kimpel/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 2.0
Bubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult, foraging. Morey, Texas, USA. June, 2007.
AdultBubulcus ibis (cattle egret); adult, foraging. Morey, Texas, USA. June, 2007.©Rick Kimpel/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 2.0

Identity

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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 Invasiveness

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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 Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Aves
  •                     Order: Ciconiiformes
  •                         Family: Ardeidae
  •                             Genus: Bubulcus
  •                                 Species: Bubulcus ibis

Description

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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).

Distribution

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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 Table

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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.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

Georgia (Republic of)PresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
IndiaPresent
-Andhra PradeshPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
-GujaratPresent
-KarnatakaPresent
IndonesiaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
IsraelPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
JapanPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
KazakhstanPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
TaiwanPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
ThailandPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
TurkeyPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011

Africa

AlgeriaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
BeninPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
BotswanaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
EgyptPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
MadagascarPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
MoroccoPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
NigeriaPresent
South AfricaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
SudanPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
ZimbabwePresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011

North America

CanadaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-OntarioPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
MexicoPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-ArizonaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-ArkansasPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-FloridaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-IdahoPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-IowaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-MarylandPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-MississippiPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-MissouriPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-OklahomaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-TexasPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-VirginiaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-WisconsinPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011

Central America and Caribbean

ArubaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
BahamasPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
BarbadosPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
CubaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
GuadeloupePresent
GuatemalaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
PanamaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
Saint LuciaPresentIntroduced Invasive Krauss, 2012Safety hazard at Hewanorra Airport due to bird strike risk
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
BrazilPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
ChilePresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
ColombiaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
Falkland IslandsPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
South Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011

Europe

AlbaniaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
AustriaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
BelgiumPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
Czech RepublicPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
DenmarkPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
FinlandPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
FrancePresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
GermanyPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
GreecePresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
HungaryPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
ItalyPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
NetherlandsPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
PolandPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
PortugalPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
SpainPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
SwedenPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
SwitzerlandPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
UKPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-England and WalesPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)PresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
-QueenslandPresent
GuamPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011
New ZealandPresentIntroduced Not invasive ISSG, 2011

Habitat

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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 List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Brackish
Estuaries Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-managed
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
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)

Biology and Ecology

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Nutrition
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).

Reproduction
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."

Lifecycle stages
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 Dispersal

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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).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Self-propelled Yes Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Native fauna Negative

Impact

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General Impacts

Compiled by IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)
 
Cattle egrets are able to thrive in areas densly populated by other species, and this makes them potentially able to over-crowd and out-comepete native birds for nesting areas. A number of articles point out however, that cattle egrets seem to have little or no impact on native bird species they live with. They are known to nest next to and amongst native birds with little or no observable conflict occuring, and because their nesting time is after native Herons, this further reduces threat of competition. Lastly, their diet, which is mostly insects and land invertebrates, does not overlap with native Heron's diets, which are fish and aquatic invertebrates. (GSMFC, 2005)

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
Impact outcomes
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Predation

Uses

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Some ranchers rely on cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) for fly control more than they do pesticides (Ivory, 2000).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Ardea alba
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).

Egretta caerulea
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).

Egretta thula
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).

Bibliography

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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

Contributors

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Reviewed by: Expert review underway: Michel Gauthier-Clerc, Station Biologique de la Tour Du Valat France

Principal sources:Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSFMC), 2005 Bubulcus ibis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2003 Cattle Egret

    Compiled by: National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) & IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)
Last Modified: Saturday, September 27, 2008

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