Birds of Cape Ann: Great Egret vs. Great Egret

Great Egret Gloucester - ©Kim Smith 2013Great Egret (Ardea alba)

On a gorgeous dawn this past season I filmed an epic battle between two, possibly three, Great Egrets at the Good Harbor Beach marsh. The battle lasted nearly ten minutes with the defending egret aggressively flying lower and beneath the intruder, preventing it from landing anywhere on the marsh.

Great Egret Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2013

Great Egrets have interesting breeding behavior in that the male selects the nesting site and builds a platform nest of sticks and twigs in a tree, shrub, or on the ground near a marsh,  prior to selecting a mate. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks, and both male and female vigorously defend the nesting territory. Perhaps that is what I had observed, a male and/or female defending their nesting site.

Great Egret Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2013

The Good Harbor Beach victor first surveyed the marsh from his perch on the adjacent cottage and, after determining his foe was defeated, swooped to the tide pool below to feed peaceably alonsgide the Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron Great Egret Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2013Great Blue Heron and Great Egret

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How do you tell the difference quickly between a Great Egret and Snowy Egret? If you saw the two species side-by-side it would be easy as the Great Egret is nearly a third as large as the Snowy Egret. I don’t often see them together so the easiest way for me to tell them apart is to remember that the smaller Snowy Egret has brilliant cadmium yellow feet and a black bill. The Great Egret has black feet and a yellow-orange bill.

Snow Egret ©Kim Smith 2013Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

Good Harbor Beach Marsh ©Kim Smith 2013Good Harbor Beach Marsh Battleground

28 thoughts on “Birds of Cape Ann: Great Egret vs. Great Egret

  1. Kettle Island off of Magnolia is a major nesting roost of both types of egrets as well as Great Blue and Little Blue Herons. It’s amazing to stand on Shore Road in the evening and watch the flocks return to the island for the night. Little Blue Herons are born white and being about the same size as a Snowy Egret they can easily be confused. The Little Blue’s legs and bill are pale grayish green.


  2. Great shots Kim. I love egrets, and it is not hard to differentiate the large great egret from the diminutive snowy or cattle egrets. Would love to have seen that battle!


    1. Thank you EJ.

      There is a species called the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), not native, but introduced to the US from Africa in 1953. Would be interesting to see that!!


  3. Your pictures are so very beautiful! The days in which they appear in GMG add an additional dimension. I save almost all of them and are the background for my most beautiful screensavers.

    Thank you,



    1. Juana, what a very sweet comment to see in my inbox this morning. You and all my kind commenters really made my day!

      I very much hope you’ll come see my film. Many of these photos are stills taken while my movie camera is running.


  4. Slipped back into the 80’s for this one “Walking on Sunshine” is a song written by Kimberley Rew for Katrina and the Waves’ 1983 eponymous debut…Walking on water and Sunshine both a blast I was at Kwang Ju spelled Gwang Ju now South Korea then- with my Kim Cha. Then thanks:-)

    Katrina & The Waves – Walking On Sunshine


  5. Just beautiful, when they fly by I just look in wonder. This is one of the reasons I do my work trying to clean our city and keep it clean. There just one of the living creatures I am trying to save.


    1. Oh Patty, your tireless dedication and hard work you do keeping the city clean is so essential to all of us–people, birds, butterflies–on so many levels. And, too, maintaining the beautiful gardens on Main Street. I admire you and your commitment and think I speak for many in thanking you from the bottom of my heart for all you do to keep Gloucester beautiful, for all her creatures.


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