Bubulcus – Cattle egret

Helps by removing ticks and flies from cattle, creating a mutual benefit

Cattle egrets are distinctive among herons for their symbiotic relationship with land mammals.

Unlike other herons that are closely associated with wetlands, Cattle egrets are often found in dry habitats such as fields and pastures. They are medium-sized with stout bodies, relatively short legs and necks for herons, and during breeding season, they display buff-colored plumage on their heads, necks, and backs.

Cattle egrets have a unique feeding strategy that involves following large mammals, such as cattle, buffalo, or even tractors, to feed on the insects that these animals disturb from the vegetation. This behavior allows them to capture a variety of prey, including grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, and sometimes small vertebrates like frogs and lizards. This opportunistic diet is a key factor in their successful colonization of diverse habitats worldwide.

The symbiotic relationship they share with cattle is beneficial to both species. Cattle egrets feed on ectoparasites like ticks and flies that bother the cattle, providing relief to the animals while gaining a meal. This relationship is a classic example of mutualism in the animal kingdom.

Cattle egrets are highly social and breed in colonies, often with other waterbirds. Their nests are constructed in trees or shrubs, and a single pair may have several broods in a season. Both parents share in the care of the young, which includes feeding them regurgitated food.

These birds are among the most migratory of the heron species. They have shown remarkable adaptability in their migratory patterns, with some populations markedly expanding their range over the past century. Cattle egrets have been known to fly across large bodies of water and settle in new areas, which has led to their wide distribution.