Thursday, October 29, 2020

Elephant Bird

Another week of rain and wind goes by with no birding or ringing. We’ve had something like 150% of the expected October rain, but still it comes. 

With few birders venturing out even WhatsApp news is devoid of bird sightings except for recent day “pings” about Cattle Egrets from three local apps - Lancaster, North West, and Fylde.  Just a day ago came news of a local record number of 16 Cattle Egrets together at Freckleton, Fylde, plus a sighting of two more in the Cockerham, Lancaster area on the same day. 

Although I have seen Cattle Egrets all over the world, it was only in 2017 that I saw my first one in the UK, early December 2017 at Cockerham a few miles from home, quickly followed by a second in the spring of 2018. 

The Cattle Egret is now following the example of two other egrets, Little Egret and Great Egret, of  expanding to the north and west of Britain. But it must be said that the Cattle Egrets that plod around muddy cattle fields in mid-winter England rarely look as striking or exotic as the ones seen on the bright sunny days of Egypt, India, Menorca or West Africa. 

Cattle Egret - Cockerham, Lancashire

Cattle Egret - Cockerham, Lancashire

Cattle Egrets - Menorca
Cattle Egret - Egypt

Cattle Egret - Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Strictly speaking, the Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis is not an egret, despite the similarities in plumage to the egrets of the genus Egretta. It is a member of the heron (Ardea) family, the single example of the monotypic genus Bubulcus. Some authorities regard two of its subspecies as full species, the Western Cattle Egret and the Eastern Cattle Egret. Although similarly and mostly white, where there are hints of orange and yellow the eastern version is more strikingly colourful than the western.

Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe, the Cattle Egret has undergone a rapid expansion in its distribution and successfully colonised much of the rest of the world in the last century. This is probably due in large part to due to its relationship with humans and their domesticated animals and where it acquired colloquial names such as cow crane, cow bird, cow heron, elephant bird, and even rhinoceros egret. 

Cattle Egret - Egypt

Cattle Egret - Menorca

Cattle Egret - India

Originally adapted to a relationship with large grazing and browsing animals, the Cattle Egret was easily able to switch to domesticated cattle and horses. As the keeping of livestock spread throughout the world, the Cattle Egret began began to occupy otherwise empty niches. 

Many populations of Cattle Egrets are highly migratory and dispersive, a trait that helped the species' range expansion. The Cattle Egret may be one of the few species to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the “wrong” direction by first arriving in North America in 1941, those early sightings were originally dismissed as escapees. The species bred in Florida in 1953 and spread rapidly, breeding for the first time in Canada in 1962. Cattle Egrets were first sighted in the Americas on the boundary of Guiana and Suriname in 1877, having apparently flown across the Atlantic Ocean. Cattle Egrets are now widely distributed across Brazil and other parts of South America. 

Breeding in the UK was recorded for the first time in 2008 only a year after an influx seen in the previous year. A pair bred again in 2017, and in 2008 Cattle Egrets were reported in Ireland for the first time. 

The Cattle Egret now has a niche in Britain, where it does not directly compete with other species and from where it will soon establish a viable breeding population. Unlike most herons the Cattle Egret is typically found in fields and dry grassy habitats, reflecting a greater dietary reliance on terrestrial insects and other quarry like earthworms rather than aquatic prey. With its perceived role as a bio-control of cattle parasites such as ticks and flies, the Cattle Egret should be seen as a welcome and permanent addition to British birdlife. 

Cattle Egret - Cockerham, Lancashire

Cattle Egret - Menorca

A glance at the latest local weather forecasts predicts yet more day of rain with perhaps an improvement by the middle of next week. I hope so. 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog or your WhatsApp birding news.    

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog and Anni in Texas.



eileeninmd said...


Awesome post and photos on the Cattle Egrets. I never knew they were called elephant birds, that is a weird name. I have seen the breeding adult with their colorful plumage, they are lovely. Take care, enjoy your day!

jp@A Green Ridge said...

Very interesting info on the Cattle Egret, which, of course, I never heard of. They are quite attractive, Phil....:)jp

Lowcarb team member said...

It's been awful weather today (Friday) hasn't it.
I stayed in and got some housework done!

It was nice to see all of the lovely photographs on your post here Phil, thank you.

All the best Jan

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

Phil I also did not know they are called Elephant bird and that made me look it up and I discovered in parts of the world they were called by different name such as cow cranes, cow herons, cow birds, elephant birds, rhinoceros egrets, and hippopotamus egrets. Beautiful selection of photos but although they have been seen in Ireland (a fw) I have never seen any in N. Ireland. Have a great weekend despite the rain and storm

eileeninmd said...

Great post and info Phil! I love the pretty Cattle Egrets. You have a fantastic collection of photos. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Take care, enjoy your day and weekend!

Anu said...

Hello Phil.
Interesting post. Cattle egret has visited in Finland three times.
Wonderful photos.

Rain said...

What a beautiful bird, I love the photos!

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

Well, we have the Cattle Egret but I never knew that much about it. We see them out in the fields with horses or cows and I still love the photo my hubby took of a flock flying behind me...close up! Thanks for this post! I learned something today!

Wally Jones said...

Thank you for the interesting history lesson!

For us, we often take the ubiquitous Cattle Egret for granted. From picking grasshoppers out of our hedge, to cleaning up french fries in the local drive-thru emporium, to moving across the dawn sky in impressive clouds, and yes, even to hitchhiking atop their namesake bovine benefactors - they seem to be everywhere!

Their plumage change during breeding season is remarkably beautiful.

We hope your weather will soon turn favorable!

RedPat said...

I hope the weather improves and you will soon be able to get out! WE are actually having a sunny day and the migration of birds to the south continues here. I saw a flock of about 20 robins this morning and a murder of crows this afternoon. We had frost last night so that seems to be getting them to move on quickly.

Yvonne said...

Interesting post on cattle egrets and a nice collection of photos.

Jean said...

Hope you get some better weather soon! Our weather's been all over the place this past week. Enjoyed reading your post about the cattle egrets. Have a great weekend!

Mike Attwood said...

The best I can do is House sparrow London. Just joking Phil. Nice shots and info. Stay safe. Mike.

Rhodesia said...

Having grown up in Africa, they are pretty common to me and we used to see them everywhere. Elephant bird though is a new one on me !!
We are also having so much rain and the garden is saturated. Now back in full lockdown and with winter approaching, I am not sure what photos I am going to get of anything. We cannot walk out the front door unless we have a downloaded form with name, address, date and time on it. We are back to only being allowed to walk 1 km from the house, and in the car necessary shopping only.
It is going to be a very quiet Christmas!! Keep safe Diane

Anni said...

I did NOT know that about it not being an egret but of the heron family!! Wonders never cease. (One of my favorites) And, great photos Phil.

I am really behind in my visiting today since "life got in the way". Thanks for linking in at I'd Rather B Birdin this week.

NCSue said...

Pretty fella! You've captured some nice images!
Thanks for linking up at

A Bit of the Blarney said...

Handsome birds and wonderful photos. Thank you!

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

the picture with the striking flowers behind the Egyptian cattle egret are really striking. Most of the cattle egrets I've seen in Florida are riding on the back of the cattle.

Veronica Lee said...

I never knew they were called elephant birds! How interesting!

Beautiful photos as always, Phil!

Lady Fi said...

Fabulous bird shots.

The Padre said...

Dig That Banner Shot - The Cattle Egret India Shot Worked For Me - Be Well


Related Posts with Thumbnails