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Cattle Egret

Not so long ago considered a rare species but now an increasingly familar sight in Dorset

Photograph by: 
Steve Groves

Something is happening with the cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) but, as yet, I do not think we know exactly what! Not five years ago a cattle egret sighting was a notable event in Dorset but now they are being reported every day from various locations across the county in autumn through to spring. In 2017 there were 113 tracked tweets reporting cattle egret and 2018 has already (by the 9th December) seen 184, it could top 200 by the end of the year.

What is possibly even more significant is not the number of reports but the actual number of birds involved. Last year's reports seemed to be of small groups, three to six, but in 2018 we have large flocks; 37+ at Abbotsbury, 18+ at Stoborough near Wareham, a dozen or so at Waddock Cross near Moreton and an undisclosed number by Fiddleford Mill, Sturminster Newton. Add to that occasional sightings of smaller numbers elsewhere and we see a very different picture with some 80+ birds overwintering in the county; this is new territory. 

The weekly report chart shows that there have been cattle egrets around somewhere in the county in most weeks over the last two years, even in summer but the number of reports climbed substantially in week 38 this year (mid September) and has remained high ever since so that would imply these are immigrant birds opting to spend the winter here. They have recently started breeding on the Somerset levels which is quite a notable occurrence but not enough young have been produced to date to give us anything like the numbers were are now seeing. 

The distribution map shows just how widespread sightings now are and some of these will be of the main flocks moving around an area; the Stoborough ones, for example, were spending the morning off Nutcrack Lane and then moving to a field off Holme Lane in the afternoon. By far the most sightings have come from the Swannery at Abbotsbury, partly because the staff there post daily what has been seen and cattle egrets are being seen every day. RSPB Radipole also has a number of sightings as it seems the north end of the reserve is a prefered roosting site for them,

To see cattle egret your best option is to watch the news headlines and head for where ever a flock has set up home, there is no guarantee you will see them of course but this is your best chance.



Common Name Cattle Egret
Scientific Name Bubulcus ibis
Species Group Birds Egrets Herons and Storks
Status Rare
Interest Level
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
Look for

White egrets in fields with cattle

Identification Notes
  • Similar size to a little egret but more 'hunched shoulders' and lacking the black legs and bill
  • Almost inevitably seen around cattle where they feed on insects attracted by cows
  • Once very rare in Dorset but much more frequently seen in the last couple of years or so 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Egrets Herons and Storks