( Ardea modesta)
The Great Egret is snow white for most of the year, when not breeding, the bill and facial skin are yellow. The feet are dark olive-grey or sooty black, as are the legs.
During the breeding season, the bill turns mostly black and the facial skin becomes green. Also at this time, long hair-like feathers (nuptial plumes) hang across the lower back, and the legs become pinkish-yellow at the top.
Young Great Egrets are similar to the adults, but have a blackish tip to the bill.
They can be observed walking slowly or standing still in shallow water in a range of wetlands, intertidal mudflats, lakes, swamps, rivers and estuaries. They feed on fish, frogs or insects.
A relatively small snowy-white egret, the Cattle Egret is distinguished during breeding season by its orange crown, neck and breast, with similarly tinted long loose neck plumes. The long sharp, slightly down-curved bill is yellow to pinkish yellow, but becomes bright red during breeding season. The legs are normally grey-green out of breeding season, turning bright red or orange-brown during breeding.
The Cattle Egret is found in grasslands, woodlands and wetlands, and is not common in arid areas. It also uses pastures and croplands, especially where drainage is poor. Will also forage at garbage dumps, and is often seen with cattle and other stock.
In Australia the Cattle Egret is most widespread and common in north-eastern Western Australia across the Top End, Northern Territory, and in south-eastern Australia from Bundaberg, Queensland to Port Augusta, South Australia, including Tasmania.
The Intermediate Egret is medium- sized egret with white plumage, legs are grey-black, beak is orange-yellow, often with a black tip.
During the breeding season, it develops long breast plumes plus plumes on the back extending beyond the tail but no plumes develop on the head.
Intermediate egrets can be observed feeding on insects and other small creatures in suitable habits in the east and south of South Australia. They are mainly to be found inland, rather than at the coast. They frequent a wide variety of wetlands including man made wetlands such as rice fields and sewage ponds. They prefer sheltered water where the vegetation is not too dense.
Intermediate egrets breed colonially in trees above water, including mangroves. The nest is a platform of loosely interwoven twigs.
The Little Egret is a small white egret with dark grey-black legs, black bill and a bright yellow naked face.
In the breeding season the plumage includes two ribbon-like head plumes, and abundant plumes on the back and breast. The Little Egret is also known as the Lesser Egret.
The Little Egret may be observed in fresh and saltwater wetlands, tidal mudflats, and mangroves feeding on a wide variety of invertebrates, as well as fish and amphibians.
Little egrets are carnivorous birds. Their diet includes mainly fish, but they also eat amphibians, , as well as crustaceans, molluscs, insects, spiders, and worms.
The Little Egret hunts in shallow water by shuffling a foot to stir up aquatic prey, which it then takes in a lightning-fast movement. It also chases small fish with its wings raised. On land, they walk or run while chasing their prey which includes small reptiles and mammals; they also feed on creatures disturbed by grazing livestock.
The Little Egret is found mainly in coastal and inland areas of northern, eastern and south-eastern Australia. It is common on the north, uncommon in the south, and may visit Tasmania in winter.
Breeding occurs in colonies with other waterbirds. A scanty nest of sticks is built over water.
Field guide to Australian Birds of Australia.
Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 3 (Snipe to Pigeons).
The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds.