Family Herons (Ardeidae)

Least Concern

Great White Egret (Ardea alba)


French: Grande Aigrette German: Silberreiher Spanish: Garceta grande
Other common names: Great Egret

Ardea alba


, 1758,



Frequently placed in Egretta or in monotypic genus Casmerodius, but DNA analyses indicate closer genetic link with Ardea#R. Distinctive characters in race modesta score highly against nominate alba and would result in treatment as a full species, but race melanorhynchos is intermediate; all four taxa score fairly highly against each other, and work is needed in order to establish differences in display repertoire during breeding season. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. a. alba Linnaeus, 1758 – Western Great Egret – C Europe E to C Asia (S to Iran), Russian Far East, NE China (Heilongjiang) and C Japan; winters SC Europe to N & C Africa, and Persian Gulf to S China and Korea.
  • A. a. modesta J. E. Gray, 1831 – Eastern Great Egret – Indian Subcontinent E to SE Asia, SE & E China, S Japan and Korea, S through Sundas, Wallacea and New Guinea region to Australia (except arid interior) and New Zealand.
  • A. a. melanorhynchos Wagler, 1827 – African Great Egret – Africa S of Sahara, Madagascar.
  • A. a. egretta J. F. Gmelin, 1789 – American Great Egret – NW USA and SE Canada S through much of North and Central America and Caribbean to S Chile and SC Argentina (Santa Cruz).
  • Descriptive notes

    80–104 cm; 700–1700 g; wingspan 140–170 cm. All-white heron, generally with all-yellow bill (sometimes with black tip), yellow eyes, greenish-yellow to... read more


    Gives low-pitched “kraak” in flight, when disturbed and in threat, while high-pitched “eeeee, i,... read more


    All kinds of wetlands, both inland and along coast, including marshes, floodplains, river margins,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Fish (e.g. Astyanax, Rhamdia, Cyprinodon, Floridichthys, Garmanella, Belonesox, ... read more


    Season very variable depending on region and sometimes prolonged (e.g. Feb–Aug in Cuba), with birds in temperate regions generally... read more


    Extensive post-breeding dispersal, for example across Australia (modesta). Populations of... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Intense persecution for plume trade in 19th and early 20th centuries led to crash in numbers and shrinking of range, but has now... read more

    Recommended citation

    Martínez-Vilalta, A., Motis, A., Kirwan, G.M. & Boesman, P. (2019). Great White Egret (Ardea alba). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 12 December 2019).