Great White Egret

Great Egret – Ardea alba


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Genre: Ardea
  • Species: Ardea alba

Identification characters

The Great Egret is a very large, uniformly white-plumaged starling. Body length can reach 100 cm and wingspan 170 cm. It differs from the lesser egret not only in its larger waist, but also in its attitude in flight, with its wings set in towards the forewing having slower but more imposing beats and its longer legs projecting far behind the tail. The beak is yellowish, as are the tibia and part of the tarsi. The toes are dark. In the past, the white egret was hunted for its ornamental feathers.


The species has a wide distribution on all continents except cold areas. In the northern hemisphere, the distribution extends to the northern limit of the temperate zone. In Europe the range is restricted and fragmented. It winters in the Mediterranean area and in Africa. The European population is relatively small, 20 700- 34 900 pairs.
In Romania it is a breeding species. The population in Romania, of which a large part is in the Danube Delta, has been estimated at 400-1 000 breeding pairs. Between 123 and 2 150 individuals winter in our country, and between 5 000 and 10 000 individuals can be seen during the passage. In the rest of the country, the great egret is found mainly in southern Moldavia, the south and west of the country (Banat and Crișana), but also in wet areas with reed beds and along large rivers.

Living environment and biology of the species

The Great Egret prefers puddles and wetlands over large areas with reed beds, flooded meadows, canals, ponds. Feeds in shallow water, in flooded areas with rich vegetation, marshes, on the banks of streams, canals. Diet generally consists of fish and aquatic insects, but can also frequently be seen on dry land, where it hunts small mammals, baby birds, lizards or terrestrial insects. Maximum known longevity is 13 years and 9 months. It is a partially migratory species. Juveniles leave nesting areas as early as July. They migrate in the autumn months to southern Europe, but in mild winters some individuals can be seen in our area, especially on the ponds in the south and south-east of the country. Returns to nesting areas from late February.
It nests predominantly in flooded reedbeds at low elevations, but sometimes also on low willows or other trees, in sparse colonies with scattered nests, sometimes adjoining other colonies of lizards. The two parents participate in the construction of the nest, made of branches and reeds. The female lays 3-5 eggs between the second half of April and early June. Incubation lasts 25-27 days and is carried out by both parents. The chicks remain in the nest for around 30 days, but continue to be fed by the parents until 42 days, when they become completely independent of them.

Threats and conservation measures

The Great Egret is threatened by habitat loss and alteration, pollution and management
management, poaching.
In order to conserve white egret populations, it is recommended to respect restrictions in riparian areas, manage litter in wetlands, protect nesting and feeding sites, conserve woodlands in the vicinity of aquatic habitats, maintain and conserve reedbeds with permanent water, protect colonies, prohibit burning reeds. Forestry work of any kind should be carried out outside the species’ breeding season. Only selective and low-toxicity agrochemicals should be used on neighbouring land. Measures to prevent drying out and sudden artificial changes in the water regime in wetlands are of the utmost importance.
Research is needed to assess the impact of the species on commercially exploited resources (geese, crustaceans, molluscs) and to harmonise conservation objectives with the activities of the affected sectors.
Hunting legislation needs to be respected and good cooperation between conservation organisations, hunting organisations, the gendarmerie and the Environment Guard is desirable.
Studies on various aspects of the biology of the species, the inventory of current and potential breeding areas, the identification of migration, feeding and aggregation areas are useful and should be promoted.


  • Fântână Ciprian, Kovács Istvan, Benkő Zoltán, Daròczi Szilárd, Domșa Cristian, Veres-Szászka Judit (editori), 2022, Atlas al speciilor de păsări de interes comunitar din România, ediția a II-a – Iubește păsările, salvează natura!, Proiect finanțat din Fondul European de Dezvoltare Regională prin Programul Operațional Infrastructură Mare 2014-2020, Ministerul Mediului, Apelor și Pădurilor- Direcția Biodiversitate, coordonare științifică Societatea Ornitologică Română și Asociația pentru Protecția Păsărilor și a Naturii Grupul Milvus, produs de EXCLUS PROD SRL, p. p.104-105;
    • Lars Svensson, Hakan Delin, 1988, Photographic guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, Herons, storks and ibises p. 30, Chancellor Press, London
  • Svensson (text și hărți), 2017, Ghid pentru identificarea păsărilor. Europa și zona mediteraneană, traducerea și adaptarea în limba română: Societatea Ornitologică română, Emanuel Ștefan Baltag, Sebastian Bugariu, Alida Barbu, p.82;
  • Radu Dimitrie, 1983, Mic atlas ornitologic – Păsările lumii, Editura Albatros, București, p. 67;
  • Ornitodata | Egretă mare (
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