In the Wild With Jackie: Observing the Great Egret

By Jackie Johansen

Have you noticed a large, white, svelte bird standing or walking near the ponds or in the fields of Menifee? Does it seem out of place?

This bird of 40 inches was most likely hunting, and is most often found near shorelines of either fresh or salty water. The great egret has a wingspan of nearly five feet, and often lives 15 years in the wild. Great egrets have been seen in our area for several years, and hopefully are a mainstay. Their “S-Shaped” body and height make it a standout among other birds in Menifee.

Once hunted nearly to extinction for its feathers, the great egret is a beautiful and carnivorous bird. It hunts by walking slowly or standing still for long periods of time before gobbling its prey. Favorite foods of the egret include frogs and fish, but in our area, they have been observed eating mice and lizards. Their pointy beak can deliver a sharp blow to their prey, which is then swallowed whole.

During mating season, these otherwise pristine white birds will develop a patch of neon green skin near their beaks. These birds prefer to nest near water, and the males will allow the females to work on the nest, but will often be seen completing it on their own. The finished nest is made up of pliable plant material that dries into a one-foot deep, cupped shaped nest that can be three feet across.

If no tall trees near water can be found, the birds may resort to nesting on the ground or on man-made structures. The parents of the chicks are monogamous, and both parents take turns incubating the pale blue/green eggs in 3-4 day time periods. After hatching, the baby egrets can be very aggressive toward one another and, often, only the strongest survive. After about 3 ½ weeks, the babies will fledge, or leave the nest.

The impressive wingspan of the egret helps this powerful flier reach cruising speeds of 25 mph with only two wing beats per second. Occasionally, you can spot an egret swimming in the water looking for its prey, but this is a rarity.

The great egret is also the official symbol of the National Audubon Society because of the massive recovery that it experienced over time.

Have you been curious about any of Menifee’s wildlife lately? Leave your questions in the comment box.

Jackie Johansen loves everything outdoors and spending time with her husband and kids. She teaches high school biology for Julian Charter School and holds degrees in zoology, conservation biology, education, and technology. Her "In the Wild" column will appear here once a month.


  1. They're beautiful! Great article! :)

  2. I am in the Senior area of Sun City and several times have seen one just walking around on the rockscape yards. Lizard hunting maybe?

  3. Linda- Yes, I have seen them catch lizards in my own yard. They are quick, and the lizards never see it coming. I saw some in Oahu doing the same thing to geckos.