The cattle egret is a small white heron about 19-21 inches in length with a wingspan of about three feet. It often looks like it is hunched over. It has short legs and a thick neck compared to other species of egrets.
Adults have dull yellow or orange bills and dull orange legs. Immature cattle egrets have black legs and bills. During breeding season, it has a brownish crown and chest, and its eyes, legs, and bill are red.
Behaviour Most populations of this species are partially migratory, making long-distance dispersive movements related to food resources in connection with seasonal rainfall (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Other populations (e.g. in north-east Asia and North America) are fully migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Snow and Perrins 1998). The species breeds throughout the year in the tropics with different regional peaks (del Hoyo et al. 1992) depending on food availability (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). It breeds colonially, often with other species, in groups (del Hoyo et al. 1992).The species inhabits open grassy areas such as meadows (del Hoyo et al. 1992), livestock pastures (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), semi-arid steppe (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and open savanna grassland subject to seasonal inundation (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), dry arable fields (del Hoyo et al. 1992), artificial grassland sites (e.g. lawns, parks, road margins and sports fields) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), flood-plains (Hancock and Kushlan 1984), freshwater swamps, rice-fields, wet pastures (del Hoyo et al. 1992), shallow marshes (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), mangroves (Hancock and Kushlan 1984) and irrigated grasslands (with ponds, small impoundments, wells, canals, small rivers and streams) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). It rarely occupies marine habitats or forested areas (del Hoyo et al. 1992).
The cattle egret feeds on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders,frogs, and Earthworms. In a rare instance they have been observed foraging along the branches of a banyan tree for ripe figs. The species is usually found with cattle and other large grazing and browsing animals, and catches small creatures disturbed by the mammals. Studies have shown that cattle egret foraging success is much higher when foraging near a large animal than when feeding singly.When foraging with cattle, it has been shown to be 3.6 times more successful in capturing prey than when foraging alone.
The cattle egret is seasonally monogamous. It pair-bonds, but at the start of the breeding season there can be a temporary group of 1 male and 2 females. Breeding starts when small groups of males establish territories. Soon after this, aggression increases, and they begin to perform various elaborate courtship displays, attracting groups of females. Immediately before pairing, a female will attempt to subdue the displaying male by landing on his back. Eventually, the male will allow one female to remain in his territory, and within a few hours, the pair-bond is secure. The female then follows the male to another site where the nest will be built. Copulation usually also takes place at this second site. There is little display involved with copulation. Some rapes and rape attempts have been documented. (Telfair, 1994)
Cattle egrets nest is large colonies with other wading birds. Pairs sometimes reuse old nests, or build new ones with live or dead vegetation. They will build in any place that can support a nest. Both sexes participate in nest-building: the female usually builds with materials brought by the male. They often steal sticks and other materials from neighbors' unattended nests. Material is continuously added to the bulky nests during incubation and after hatching. Throughout mating, nesting, and incubation, a Greeting Ceremony is given whenever one mate returns to the nest to join the other. The Greeting Ceremony involves erection of the back plumes, and flattening of the crest feathers. Eggs are laid every 2 days, and the female does not become attentive to the nest until the last egg is laid. The eggs are light sky blue, turning lighter as time passes. Clutch size is usually 3-4 eggs, although extremes of 1 and 9 have been recorded. Incubation is carried out by both sexes, and lasts 24 days. During the first week, nestlings are easily overheated, and so the parents shade them from the sun beneath their wings. Both parents brood constantly for the first 10 days. The parents may accept chicks from other broods only if they are less than 14 days old. Begging for food becomes very aggressive in days 4-8, and the nestlings are very competative with one another. Siblicide is uncommon, though sibling aggression is strong. Most of the chicks' growth is completed in the nest, but by 14-21 days, the chicks are capable of leaving the nest and climbing in vegetation, and are thus referred to as 'branchers.' At this stage, they remain nearby and continue to beg for food. At 45 days, they are independent, at 50 days they can make short flights, and at around 60 days, they fly to foraging areas. (Telfair, 1994; http://www.coos.or.us/~aigrette/ce.htm)
Cattle Egrets (Iruvaahudhu) is protected by the law of 10-ERC/2003/20 on 22nd May 2003 in the Maldives.
Previously Cattle Egrets (Iruvaahudhu) were kept as pets, But it is now protected under the law 22nd May 2003,
10-ERC/2003/20 in maldives.