Cattle Egret – plumage

posted in: birds, Morphology-Develop. | 0

Over the years I have observed Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis coromandus) in non-breeding plumage around the November to February period. Breeding plumage is seen from March onwards, especially in April when I have observed them breeding locally. Today I saw two solitary birds, at two different locations, about 5-6 km apart; one in established breeding plumage, the other in non-breeding plumage. They were a little unusual in that they were not part of any social group, as these birds are often seen together.


Cattle Egret in breeding plumage

Note that the usual yellow facial skin has turned purple-pink with the area around the eye a deeper blue. The proximal half of the bill turned rich orange-red while the distal end is a richer orange-yellow. The usual yellow-orange iris is turning red. The legs have turned a dark pink-red. The orange in the head, neck and back have developed, especially the back plumes. Note that peak breading changes that happen at mating are iris blood red (or blood-shot) iris and a deepening of facial skin colours. Maddock suggests that breeding or courtship colours may be regained ‘after a few days’ if the first attempt fails.

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage.

Why this bird is in such a late stage of breeding appearance in December is uncertain. I have in the past posted birds in asynchronous (out of synch) breeding plumage during the breeding season and suggested they were first year birds. Perhaps hormonal surges occur erratically in some younger birds or that some birds retain breeding plumage for much longer?

Cattle Egret in non-breeding plumage.

Note that the yellow-orange beak, facial skin and iris. The legs are black. And the only plumage colour, apart from white, is a patch of light orange on the forehead.

Cattle Egret in non-breeding plumage.


  1. Wells, D.R. (1999) The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passerines). Christopher Helm, London
  2. IUCN-SCC Heron Specialist Group: Heron Conservation: Cattle Egret; available here:


Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr)

Location: Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

Habitat: Open fields near limestone hills

Date: 28th December 2020

Equipment: Nikon D500 SLR with Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, handheld with Rode VideoMic Pro Plus Shotgun Microphone


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