Egrets  birds

 From the family of Ardeidae

Egrets share this family with other birds Herons & Bittern which are all having the same body profiles and habitats. Bitterns. All these birds are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds and there are 64 recognized species in this family. Some Egrets joined other Herons to nest colonially on trees while a couple of species use reed beds.

The necks are able to kink in an s-shape, due to the modified shape of the sixth vertebrae. The neck is able to retract and extend, and is retracted during flight, unlike most other long-necked birds. To differentiate itself from the Herons, all Egrets are white in color except one species, the Pacific Reef Egret has two color morphs, the light and the dark. The percentage of each morph varies geographically. White morphs only occur in areas with coral beaches.


Focusing on Egrets that can be seen in Malaysia:-

Great Egret Ardea alba
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Pacific Reef Egret Egretta sacra
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes


Most Egrets are seen in open country with wetlands but gather in large numbers in the rice fields and mudflats. There may be isolated individuals staying under the shelters on river banks. Apart from the variance in size between a couple very marginal, it is a daunting task to make a positive ID in the field as judgment by size is neither easy. I will attempt to list out some method commonly used to differentiate them.


1. Cattle Egrets   Bubulcus ibis

Size & diagnostic markings:-

50 Cm. Compared with other Egrets, this bird appear more stockier and with hunch back looks. Has short neck and rounded head. The facial skin stop just before the eyes.

In breeding plumage, there would long back and breast plumes. Rufous head and neck. Bills turns yellow so would the legs and feet. During the time of courtship, the bills and legs are pinkish red.

 Distribution :-  

This bird has a wide range spreading from Africa, Middle east, India, China & Japan then down south Sunda, Philippines, Australia and into New Zealand.


Habitats & preferences:-

More often appears where there are cows or Buffalos grazing. Also in padifields on their own minus the buffalo. Well. these are lowland places.

Again more often in good size flock of 20-50 birds

In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

Easily encountered where the cows are making continuous presence.. The number may be small and even a couple of isolated birds. Other places that they are detected would be heronry. Communal breeding colony with other Egrets and Herons.

This is not a rural bird. So if there are cows in urban area, Cattle Egrets too would be there seeking out their mealls.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

Pictures of the Cattle Egrets

breeding Cattle Egret  # 1

Cattle Egret # 2

breeding Cattle Egret # 3

breeding Cattle Egret  # 4

breeding Cattle Egret # 5

breeding Cattle Egret # 6

breeding Cattle Egret  # 7

breeding Cattle Egret # 8

Cattle Egret # 9

breeding Cattle Egret  #10

Cattle Egret # 11

Cattle Egret # 12

breeding Cattle Egret  #13

Cattle Egret # 14

Cattle Egret # 15

breeding Cattle Egret  #16

Cattle Egret # 17

Cattle Egret # 18


My personal jottings on the Cattle Egrets :-

Cattle Egret is a small size Egret at 50 cm. It is resident in Africa, western Europe, middle east, India and all the way to the far east. It is a winter visitor as well as resident in Malaysia.

The Cattle Egret is the easiest Egret to ID as there are 2 environment to favor this process. 1] As Cattle Egrets, they prefers open fields, usually in the company of cows and Buffaloes. 2] The bird is frequently seen in breeding plumage, not all birds in the flock but there would be some.

What about times when there is a large gathering with no cattle around and none of the bird having that rufous buff? The next Egret that complicate this ID process with the Cattle Egret would be the Little Egrets.

The Cattle Egret has short neck, the bill is yellow, the legs - black with brown greenish feet. Facial skin - yellow. Look at the picture marked 16. This is a typical body profile of the Cattle Egret - rather round head combined it looking hunched.


2. Little Egrets  Egretta garzetta


Size & diagnostic markings:-

60 Cm. The lower beak has a pale yellow base otherwise had dark bill. This minor point could help in an environment where almost all Egrets are completely white. They have dark legs but greenish yellow feet. During breeding they have back plumes and the face, also the feet turn reddish.

 Distribution :-  

This bird is native to west Sahara, the African continent and all the way east to Japan.

Then down south to Sulawesi and into the Australian continent


Habitats & preferences:-

This is a bird for the wetlands and padifields. Fairly common foraging alone. But they gather in huge colony to breed


In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

I find that the bird is easy to encounter but not easy to identify. More often found in coastal region foraging alone. Also in isolated inland waterways. Again as an individual bird or sometimes in pair. Nearest to my house woudl be th Rimba with its ponds and Sungei Penchala.

Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

Pictures of the Little Egrets


Little Egret # 1

Little Egret # 2

Little Egret # 3

Little Egret # 4

Little Egret # 5

breeding Little Egret # 6

breeding Little Egret # 7

breeding Little Egret # 8

breeding Little Egret # 9

Little Egret # 10

Little Egret # 11

Little Egret # 12

Little Egret # 13

Little Egret # 14

Little Egret # 15

Little Egret # 16

Little Egret # 17

breeding Little Egret # 18


My personal jottings on the Little Egrets :-

The Little Egret though named "Little" is larger than the Cattle Egret at 60 cm. This bird is also found in wide belt from Africa to the far east and down to Australia. This is another common bird in Malaysia.

The Little Egret do not gather in a large flock but seek food together in open fields and mudflats. They do that with other species of Egrets as well.

The main diagnostic markings for this bird is the dark colored bills, black legs and yellow feet. That should be simple enough. The facial skins is light colored from dull green to yellowish grey.

The breeding plumage consist of nape, back breast plumes, the bill turn blackish and the facial skin red and during courtship the feet turns red from yellow.

There is also a visiting sub-species Egretta garzetta nigripes with black feet.


3. Chinese Egrets    Egretta eulophotes


Size & diagnostic markings:-

68 Cm. This Egret have large bills, slender and pointed. Upper mandible black while lower yellow. Flesh on the face -green. Has greenish legs and feet. Breeding time, face turns blue and saggy nape plumes develop. The feet turns yellow.

 Distribution :-  

This bird is native to Korean Peninsula then south China and the Greater Sunda

Habitats & preferences:-

The Chinese Egrets is a bird of the estuary and mudflats. Yes they are also in inland waterways. The surroundings needs to be green and undisturbed. In the padifields they too forage alone but in the same area, there could be quite a good number present.

In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

I find the bird in the inland waterways easier to ID. In Bagan Sungei Buloh there are many such birds at any one time but all well spaced out in their preferred spots. In KSNP, the number have dwindled to a couple of birds.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-


Pictures of the Chinese Egrets


Chinese Egret  # 1

Chinese Egret  # 2

Chinese Egret # 3

Chinese Egret  # 4

Chinese Egret  # 5

Chinese Egret  # 6

Chinese Egret  # 7

Chinese Egret  # 8

Chinese Egret  # 9

Chinese Egret  #10

Chinese Egret  # 11

Chinese Egret  # 12

Chinese Egret  #13

Chinese Egret  # 14

Chinese Egret  # 15

Chinese Egret  # 16

Chinese Egret  # 17

Chinese Egret  # 18


My personal jottings on the Chinese Egrets :-

The Chinese Egret is fairly large at 68 cm. This the bird from the off shore Islands of Korea and China and winters in the Greater Sundas and Philippines. A common bird at the mudflats in Peninsula Malaysia.

Prominently the upper mandible is dark color and two third of the lower mandible in flesh or yellowish tone. Facial skin is yellowish towards green. The legs and feet are dull green.

This is a bird of the mudflats and the estuary, Get to see many of this bird in Bagan Sungei Buloh and Jeram. So far have not recorded any bird in breeding plumage.


4. Intermediate Egrets Egretta intermedia


Size & diagnostic markings:- 70 Cm.

This Egret has long neck as the Great Egret. Comparatively the bills is shorter and more important much rounded head. The bird gives a hunch appearance. Minor point but important - facial skin do not extend beyond eyes.

 Distribution :-  

This bird is native to Africa, the Indian Sub-continent [not into China]. Then southwards to Sumatra, Java, Bali and into Australia

Habitats & preferences:-

This Intermediate more often found at Estuary are sharing the same feeding ground with a few species of Egrets.

Their population in a single location much less than other Egrets


In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

So difficult to differentiate this Intermediate from the Great Egret. Only through time consuming method and having 2 species to compare, would make the task less tedious. I had seen the birds in most unexpected inland waterways but also isolated ponds. Most of them again were spotted in Bagan Sungei Buloh, an area of estuary.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-


Pictures of the Intermediate Egrets


Intermediate Egret  # 1

Intermediate Egret  # 2

Intermediate Egret # 3

Intermediate Egret  # 4

Intermediate Egret  # 5

Intermediate Egret # 6

Intermediate Egret  # 7

Intermediate Egret  # 8

Intermediate Egret # 9

Intermediate Egret  # 10

Intermediate Egret  # 11

Intermediate Egret # 12

Intermediate Egret  # 13

Intermediate Egret  # 14

Intermediate Egret # 15

Intermediate Egret  # 16

Intermediate Egret  # 17

Intermediate Egret # 18


My personal jottings on the Intermediate Egrets :-

The Intermediate Egret is again larger at 70 cm. The rang of this bird is limited to the sub-Sahara, Indian Sub-continent, then south through Sumatra, Java and Australia. This is a winter visitor to Malaysia as well as breeding in Malaysia.

Both the Intermediate & the Great Egret look identical and cause some confusion in ID. When both birds are together at the same place, there is instant recognition as the Great Egret is a far larger bird.  Apart from physical size, the difference which tell the Intermediate from the Great is the more rounded head and the shorter bill. Then comes the minor or subtle differences - the facial skin on the Intermediate seldom goes beyond the edge of the eyes. In some bird the tip of the beak is darker in shade.

The bird prefers freshwater wetlands like swampy lands and padi fields but can also be seen in estuary together with the Great Egrets.

Even armed with many pictures in my personal collection which again unfortunately lacking in definition, I have a hard time picking up enough to fill my quota of pictures. That's how close the features of the Intermediate and that of the Great Egrets are alike.


5. Great Egrets Ardea alba


Size & diagnostic markings:- 100Cm. The neck is the longest shown only by the "more kinked" appearance. Bills is sharp with black tip. Has black legs and olive green feet. During breeding, long back plumes and shorter and coarse plumes on the breast. Bill turns black while the legs turns reddish.

 Distribution :-  

This bird is native to Africa, then a belt along south Asia from west to east to China. Then south to the Sundas and to New Zealand.


Habitats & preferences:-

I seem to be repeating their same description as the Great Egret is also found in isolated waterways and estuary. Though gathered in a single location, they do not gather as a flock but well spread out.


In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

The Great Egret is seen permanently and in good numbers in Bagan Sungei Buloh. The density of the gathering depends on the season.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

Pictures of the Great Egrets


Great  Egret # 1

Great  Egret # 2

Great  Egret # 3

Great  Egret # 4

Great  Egret # 5

Great  Egret # 6

Great  Egret # 7

Great  Egret # 8

Great  Egret # 9

Great  Egret # 10

Great  Egret # 11

Great  Egret # 12

Great  Egret # 13

Great  Egret # 14

Great  Egret # 15

Great  Egret # 16

Great  Egret # 17

Great  Egret # 18


My personal jottings on the Great Egrets :-

The largest of the all seen in Malaysia, the Great Egret varies is size from 85-102 cm. This bird spread its presence from Sub-Sahara to the Siberian area, the Indian sub-continent then most areas in the far east. This is a common bird in Malaysia.

To ID this big bird is easy from its long neck very often kinked at a "S" shape. It has yellow bill with a black tip which very often not detected. Then black legs and feet with the upper tibia yellow. Likewise, on the larger picture below the supposing yellowish part of the upper tibia is not very much lighter in color too. The facial skin is also yellow with the split that runs back beyond the eyes. All these minor details are general information, as to when or whether any of these diagnostic markings appear on a particular bird? That is another matter. Best is to get familiar with the overall bird itself.

Unlike the Intermediate Egrets, the Great Egrets prefers coastal mudflats. There are a couple of pictures taken at Bagan Sungei Buloh to reflects on scenes where few of these Egrets & Herons co-exist in one habitat.


6. Pacific Reef Egrets  Egretta sacra


Size & diagnostic markings:- 58 Cm.

From the large Egret, this is a small bird. It comes as a dark morph as the bird shown here or white, looks of a normal Egret. For the dark morph it straightforward. Completely black and short legs. For the white morph, look for the white chin and throat. Breeding it has the usual short plumes on the nape and breast. The feet turns yellow.

 Distribution :-  

This bird is native to the region of the Andaman Seas, south China, Japan then the Sundas, Philippines down to Australia and east to oceanic islands of Micronesia.


Habitats & preferences:-

At last, one Egret with a much different preference. This bird chooses Sea coast with rocks. Almost! It could also be man made structures like built area. The birds found foraging alone or in pairs on mudflats


In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

For me personally, have not spent so much time by the sea, I have seen this bird in several spots on Langkawi island. Common would be Pantai Kok and the private pier of Porto Malai


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-


My personal jottings on the Pacific Reef Egrets :-

Lastly an averagely small "Black" Egret, the Pacific Reef Egret measuring 58 cm. This is a bird from the coastal Andaman Seas, then the coast off the eastern Asian countries down to New Zealand.

This species is dimorphic with a dark and white morph. The Pacific Reef Egret species though may appear in white as well, but it is less elegant than the conventional white egrets. This species has shorter legs and beaks, most important a profile less pronounced.

As the name implies "Reef" this species is more seen in the northern part of Peninsula Malaysia.


Pictures of the Pacific Reef Egrets


Pacific Reef Egret # 1

Pacific Reef Egret # 2

Pacific Reef Egret # 3

Pacific Reef Egret # 4

Pacific Reef Egret # 5

Pacific Reef Egret # 6

Pacific Reef Egret # 7

Pacific Reef Egret # 8

Pacific Reef Egret # 9

Pacific Reef Egret # 10

Pacific Reef Egret # 11

Pacific Reef Egret # 12

Pacific Reef Egret #13

Pacific Reef Egret # 14

Pacific Reef Egret # 15

Pacific Reef Egret # 16

Pacific Reef Egret # 17

Pacific Reef Egret # 18


The image of Egrets is very fixed in the minds of the local - they are all in white, large birds and very often flying in flocks. Of course not many people know that there are divided into so many species, large and small. For the bird watchers, this is a dull looking bird but with the challenging task of being able to ID each and every one properly as they are encountered.

I have not encountered any white morph of the Pacific Reef yet, the availability of pictures for this dark morph is a good ending for a page on white birds.