Cattle Egret

Last updated 17th December 2017

Two records in the county

24th May 2017 – Coronation Clay Pit

25th August 2017 – Harrold & Odell CP (pictured below)

Cattle Egret

The account below of the first county occurrence was written up in the September 2017 edition of The Hobby


In the last couple of years I have made a few evening visits into the brick pits on warm, calm days in late Spring with the intention of checking out some of the extensive reedbed habitats. This has proved productive in documenting the comings and goings of Marsh Harriers that have been seen courting but not yet settled to breed, recognising the continued colonisation of Bearded Tits and in noting the presence of a couple of Bitterns in recent years. With the recent colonisations of other herons in Somerset and elsewhere, other herons must be borne in mind but foremost in my thoughts was the finding of a “first” for Bedfordshire. The species under consideration was Savi’s Warbler rather than the finding of the long-awaited first Cattle Egret for the county.


On the 24th May I was joined by Steve Blain in some exploration; Steve too was having the same thoughts as I had and had been making similar trips into these locations and habitats.


At 9:10pm, an egret sp. was picked up flying south down the length of Coronation Pit near Stewartby. The bird was following the line that a Little Egret had used some 20-30 minutes earlier and was expected to be another of the same species moving towards a roosting location. Noting to Steve that another egret was coming, we lifting our binoculars to observe what we expected to be another Little Egret. I immediately noted it was not quite what we were expecting as it had not got yellow feet and as I exclaimed “It’s got a yellow bill!” Steve’s language also included colour but not in the same sense.


The bird was level to us and perhaps 100 meters away, it flew continuously at mid-height right over the southern end of the pit, before veering off west a little  over Stewartby village, then swinging right back over the village and headed off towards Stewartby Lake.  We had it in view for perhaps five minutes, but for much of the time it was a back on view, or very distant.


Steve noted the following features in his description:

  • Short, yellow bill.  Fairly thick and typical of a Cattle Egret – not long and thin like a Great Whites would have looked
  • Round, tucked-in neck – a different shape to the more angular neck of the Little Egret we had seen a few minutes before
  • A yellow-orange streak in the crown of the head, which started around the top of the forehead and went slightly past the crown – this wasn’t as extensive as some summer plumaged Cattle Egrets and perhaps suggests it wasn’t a full adult?
  • Wings were also more rounded and seemed shorter than the Little Egret.
  • The flight was slightly more bouncy than the Little Egret


This bird was accepted as the first for the county, and had been expected for some time as neighbouring counties have all recorded this species on multiple occasions over recent years though the lack ok suitable livestock pastures in Bedfordshire may restrict its occurrence compared with some areas in the south of England.


The second for the county was at Harrold & Odell CP on 24th and 25th August, a site that has also hosted the majority of Great White Egret records in the county so far. We should no doubt expect a few more Cattle Egrets to be recorded in the future and the current status in the UK would suggest that this will become a regular visitor and potential future breeder in the county