The Great Egret - Ardea alba - is a tall and graceful bird with long kinked neck and entirely white plumage. Legs are dark grey or black. Length of head and neck together exceed body length. Bill is usually yellow in a non-breeding bird; black in breeding birds. Male and female are similar. Grows to 85-105 centimetres.
Breeding individuals have long plumes on the back where fine white filaments extend beyond the tail. Breeding birds have black bills (instead of yellow), red eyes and red legs; the breeding bird looks different to the more usually seen non-breeding Great Egret.
Hunts with slow, deliberate movements, often poised motionless with neck extended but kinked ready for a spearing thrust with the bill. Lives alone or in small groups, rarely in large flocks. Flies with slow and deliberate wing beats; legs extend well beyond the tail in flight; in flight the neck is folded so the head is well back.
Common and widespread in suitable permanent or temporary habitats. Lives in wetlands, flooded pastures, dams, estuarine mudflats, mangroves and reefs.
Breeds mainly in the early summer in the south and later in the north. Breeds in colonies. Nest is a platform of sticks in a tree up to 15 metres above the ground, sometimes in a reed bed. Three to six eggs; pale green-blue; oval, about 53 by 38 millimetres. Incubation about 25 days by both parents. Young, usually two surviving, fledge in six weeks.
Distinguished from the Intermediate Egret by this species' kinked neck, long forehead and flattened head. The rearward extension of the bill in the Great Egret extends past the eye (upper left photograph), in the Intermediate Egret this extension does not go past the eye.
Also known as the Large Egret and White Egret.