Western Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis - Héron garde-boeufs

  • Order 


  • Family


  • Genus


  • Species



Linnaeus, 1758

  • Size
    : 56 cm
  • Wingspan
    : 88 à 96 cm.
  • Weight
    : 300 à 400 g

15 years

Geographic range


Description identification

Héron garde-boeufs
adult plum. breeding
Héron garde-boeufs
adult plum. post breeding

Present on every continent, very common in Africa, the Western Cattle Egret is a medium-sized wading bird. He often accompanies livestock in fields, which explains his name. It differs from other herons in its particular silhouette, at rest with the head and neck tucked into the shoulders.
This heron is slightly smaller than the Little Egret. It is known in two relatively different plumages. In nuptial plumage, it bears orange elongated feathers on the head, neck, chest and lower back. Its beak is bright orange and its legs are pink. The iris is yellow. In interstitial and juvenile plumage, it is entirely white with dark legs. Its beak is orange.

Subspecific information monotypic species

Foreign names

  • Héron garde-boeufs,
  • Garcilla bueyera,
  • carraceiro-ocidental,
  • Kuhreiher,
  • pásztorgém,
  • Koereiger,
  • Airone guardabuoi,
  • kohäger,
  • Kuhegre,
  • hltavka chochlatá,
  • volavka rusohlavá,
  • Kohejre,
  • lehmähaikara,
  • Veereier (Bosluisvoël),
  • esplugabous,
  • Kúhegri,
  • czapla złotawa,
  • lopu gārnis,
  • kravja čaplja,
  • Египетская цапля,
  • Kuntul kerbau,
  • ニシアマサギ,
  • 西牛背鹭,
  • 西方牛背鷺〔西方黃頭鷺〕,

Voice song and cries

Héron garde-boeufs
adult plum. transition

The species is generally quiet. The night time flight call is a hin hin ahin... . It is silent while searching for food. A breeding colony is characterised by a sort of continuous chatter made up of juvenile chirping and the roc roc roc of the adults.


Héron garde-boeufs
adult plum. breeding

Unlike other herons, the Western Cattle Egret is not mainly associated with the aquatic environment. Although water and wetland areas continue to play an important role in its lifestyle, it is most often found in grassy steppes, meadows, crops, and even in artificial environments such as sports fields or urban lawns.

Behaviour character trait

Héron garde-boeufs
adult plum. post breeding

This bird displays a highly developed gregarious instinct. It is almost always observed in groups. It nests in often densely populated wooded areas.

Héron garde-boeufs
The search for food is often a collective quest as well: they can be seen in small groups taking advantage of the disturbance caused by cattle to capture their terrestrial prey. Western Cattle Egrets fly in groups, but unlike geese, cranes, and other cormorants, which are known for the more or less regular alignment of individuals, they form non-ordered groups.


Héron garde-boeufs
adult plum. breeding

Typical flight of the Western Cattle Egret, with the neck folded and legs stretched backwards. The flight can be acrobatic when the bird drops towards the ground in zigzagging.

Dietfeeding habits

Héron garde-boeufs
plum. post breeding

As a terrestrial predator, the Western Cattle Egret has a mainly insectivorous diet. It is often found in the company of livestock on which it perches. It takes advantage of the disturbance caused by cattle or agricultural machinery to capture insects and other arthropods, various other invertebrates as well as small vertebrates such as mice and shrews. It occasionally hunts with its feet in the water and fish can then enter its diet.

Reproduction nesting

Héron garde-boeufs

Nesting is a business for both parents, but there is a fairly rigorous division of tasks: The female is in charge of construction itself, while the male is responsible for collecting the materials.

Built of twigs, the nest is installed in a bush or shrub on the edge of the water.
When one of the partners returns to the nest, the couple adopts a ceremonial attitude with the back feathers erect and the head feathers flattened.
The female lays 4 to 5 bluish-green eggs that are alternately incubated by the male and female for 22 to 26 days. The young are nidicolous and fly away in about 30 days, but they are able to climb in the neighboring branches of the nest at the age of 2 to 3 weeks.

Geographic range

Héron garde-boeufs

Originally from Africa, commonly found in Kenya or Tanzania, this Western Cattle Egret is now present on all continents except Antarctica. It is common in the Iberian Peninsula and southern France and can occasionally be seen in the rest of Europe.

Threats - protection

IUCN conservation status
in the Wild

The Western Cattle Egret is generally common and widespread in its habitat.

Sources of information

Other sources of interest

QRcode Héron garde-boeufsSpecification sheet created on 28/10/2023 by with help of
partially rewritten on 00/00/0000 by
Translation by AI Oiseaux.net
published: - Updated: 24-11-2022
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