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Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's rare vertebrate animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist
For information on Wisconsin's rare invertebrates, contact:
Jay Watson
Conservation Biologist

Great Egret (Ardea alba)



Great Egret (Ardea alba), listed as Threatened in Wisconsin, prefers freshwater wetlands, rivers and streams with waterside deciduous forest communities and willow thickets. The required avoidance period is May 15 - July 15.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Great Egret (Ardea alba). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where occurrences of this species meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations.

Note: Species recently added to the NHI Working List may temporarily have blank occurrence maps.

Documented locations of Ardea alba in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.
Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2B
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

Note: a species guidance document is not available at this time. Information below was compiled from publication ER-091.

Identification: Plumage is white, bill is yellow, and legs and feet are glossy black. Largest of egrets that occur in Wisconsin.

Habitat: Found along streams, ponds, marshes, and mudflats; also inland lakes and wooded swamp areas.

State Distribution: Fairly common migrant south; uncommon migrant central; rare migrant north. Uncommon summer resident west, south, and east; rare summer resident central. Egrets are found along the Mississippi River north to Pierce County and breeding has been confirmed north to Burnett County. Six colonies are located along the Mississippi River, and the largest colony is located at Horicon Marsh in Dodge County. A map outlining Pre-1977 and 1997 to Present Distribution is available.

Diet: Feed mainly on crayfish, shrimp, aquatic insects, frogs, fish, crabs, and snails. Occasionally feed on lizards, snakes, salamanders, mice, and moles.

Clutch: Usually 3-4 pale blue-green eggs; laid from April to July.

Incubation: 24 days. Young fledge at 42 days old.

Nest: Sticks and twigs or stems of marsh plants with little or no lining. Placed in medium-sized trees 20-40 feet up.

Management Guidelines: Historically, colonies of thousands were reduced to small numbers in just a few years due to plume hunters. Wetland loss has resulted in less nesting habitat. Protection of large blocks of bottomland forests and large inland wetland complexes with riparian woods will provide suitable nesting habitat.



Great Egret

Large trees over water provide the substrate for this colony of Great Egrets.

Photo © Gary Kramer.

Great Egret

Photo © Joe Martin.

Great Egret

Photo © Lee Karney.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Great Egret

Photo © Laura Erickson.

Wildlife Action Plan

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Great Egret. Only natural communities for which Great Egret is "high" (score=3) or "moderate" (score=2) associated are shown. See the key to association scores for complete definitions. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Great Egret. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of Great Egret occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

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Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

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Issues/threats and conservation actions

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for rare animals

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Last revised: Thursday, December 22, 2022