What is an Egret?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 May 2020
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An egret is a type of heron, a bird of the Ardeidae family. While there is no biological difference between egrets and other herons, egrets are typically white or buff, and many have distinctive plumage. Most egrets belong to either the Egretta or the Ardea genus.

The relationship between the egret and other herons is not always distinct. Many egrets, notably the Great Egret, have scientific classifications under debate. The Great Egret has been identified alternatively as Ardea alba, Egretta alba, and Casmerodius albus.

Egrets and other herons live in wetlands around the world. They hunt and eat fish, frogs, insects, and other aquatic life. Egretta species tend to live in warmer, marshy areas. Ardea may live in colder areas, and some Northern herons of this genus travel south in the winter because the water in their main habitat freezes. Egrets nest in trees or shrubs on large platforms of sticks.

Many egret species were historically hunted for their plumage, resulting in dangerously low populations during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Egrets recovered from this hunting well due to conservation measures, though a few species are currently threatened by habitat loss. The Slaty Egret of southern Africa and the Chinese Egret of Asia are both classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

The Great Egret lives around the world, in Africa, Asia, Europe, New Zealand, and North America. Though it is not endangered in general, some populations are threatened, notably that in New Zealand. Habitat loss is now the species' greatest threat, rather than hunting. The Great Egret was a major target of conservation efforts in the early 20th century and is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, an American non-profit organization dedicated to environmental conservation.

Some egrets have two different color morphs, white and gray. The variations in color may be related to camouflage.

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