Great Egrets: Nests, Courtship and Baby Egrets

With spectacular breeding plumage, delicate mating displays, and adorable babies, great egrets are fun to watch during bird nesting season.

With the recent discovery of an amazing bird rookery island close to my home, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately watching the nesting behavior of a variety of Florida’s water and wading birds. A small island in the middle of a neighborhood stormwater drainage pond is home to nine different species during bird nesting season, including wood storks, little blue herons, and more. The habitat is perfect for safe observation and photography, since the nesting birds are safe offshore, but only about a dozen yards away. Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken hundreds of photos of the various species to share with you, and today I’m starting with what is arguably the most spectacular—the great egret nest.

Check out 10 egrets and herons found in North America.

Great Egret Bird Nesting SeasonJill Staake

Already a striking bird with its clean white feathers and long graceful neck, the great egret becomes even more amazing during breeding season. The patches on their faces become a brilliant lime green, while their back feathers grow into lovely waving plumes. (These same plumes, called aigrettes, caused a dramatic decline in this species at the end of the 19th century when they became popular adornments for ladies’ hats. Eventually, the backlash against the hunting of birds for their feathers led to the foundation of the National Audubon Society and the first National Wildlife Refuge in the United States.

Learn 7 fascinating facts about great blue herons.

Great Egret Bird Nesting SeasonJill Staake

Great Egret Nests

Each year, great egret males choose a nesting area and build a nest platform. They then display nearby, looking for a mate by curving their body into an S position, and raising and lowering their bodies. See sweet photos that show how birds flirt and attract mates.

Great Egret Bird Nesting SeasonJill Staake

Male and females often finish building the egret nest together before the female lays a clutch of one to six eggs, which are a pale green-blue color. Both parents help to incubate the eggs, which takes 23 to 26 days. Here’s how to identify bird eggs by color and size.

Great Egret Bird Nesting SeasonJill Staake

Great Egret Bird Nesting SeasonJill Staake

Baby Egret Birds

The hatchlings are little balls of fluff (a friend of mine referred to the baby egrets as “Don King with a beak”). They grow pretty quickly for large birds, leaving the egret nest in about four weeks and able to fly by about six weeks. Great egrets may then mate again and raise a second brood before bird nesting season ends. Discover 8 different kinds of bird nests and how to spot them.

Great Egret nestJill Staake

Great Egret Range

Great egrets have a widespread range, and can be seen near water in many parts of the U.S. Take our quiz: how many shorebirds can you identify?

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.