Cattle Egret in breeding plumage

Egrets are medium to large sized birds, closely related to the Herons (see here) and belong to Ardea or Egretta genera. Similar to their (very) close relatives – Herons – they also have long legs and a long beak.

Infact, the actual biological difference between Herons and Egrets is more appearance-based than biology-based. Biologically, both have the same build.

Speaking of appearance, most Egrets are white all over with deep-yellow coloured bill and yellow or black legs.

Since apart from size, all Egrets are similar to each other in appearance, identifying them can be a task.

However, it is during the Breeding Season, when all the Egrets develop different plumages, that one could easily identify them. Hang on till the end where I’ll give some identification tips that could save you some time.

Of the 6 Egrets found in India, here I will talk about 4 them :-

1. Little Egret

2. Intermediate Egret

3. Great Egret

4. Cattle Egret

Identification Tips: During the identification process, the first thing you should see is the size. The Cattle Egret and Little Egret are very small compared to the other two.

The next thing thing you should see is the colour of their bill. The Little Egret has a black beak while the rest of the three have a yellow bill.


By now if your bird is still unidentified then it’s probably either Intermediate Egret or Great Egret. On field Identification of these two is quite difficult cause the only major difference between these two is their gape line. Of course there are other things (head shape, breast feathers), but if it’s your first time, you may not be able to notice those immediately.

Now if you don’t know what this weird thing – gape line – is, in layman’s words, it’s the place where the the upper and lower bill of a bird meet. (Look at the thin line of flesh than extends under the eye, that’s the gape line.)

Now back to the identification. The gape line of a Great Egret extends beyond its eye while that of a Intermediate Egret ends near the middle of eye.

~Arjun Basandrai

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