For the past several days Cattle Egrets have been reported from a pasture west of Faribault in Rice County. Although both Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets are occasionally seen in fields, none of our native herons and egrets use dry pasture land as their primary habitat. Cattle Egrets feed in close association with livestock. They feed on arthropods that the cattle disturb. They do not eat ticks from livestock.
Cattle Egrets began spreading across the world in the late 1800s. They first appeared in North America in the 1950s and, in the ensuing 40 years, have become common in most of the United States, Central and South America (Telfair 2006). Their range expansion continues even today. In Minnesota, the species is considered to be rare but regular (MOU). The species is even more common in South Dakota. The reasons for the Cattle Egret's success are probably multiple, but certainly include the bird's preference for pasturelands.
The photograph above is of the Rice County Cattle Egret in breeding plumage. (In Great Britain, the species is called the Buff-backed Heron.) The white, fall bird below is from South Dakota. This bird clearly possesses binocular vision, a trait that is probably handy for chasing grasshoppers across cattle pastures. The large black structure behind the egret is a cow's leg.