What Large White Wading Bird Is Stalking through the Marshes of Southern Ontario?

I’ve seen a bird almost as large as a Great Blue Heron several times in various marshes in southern Ontario over the past few years. I recognized them immediately because I had also seen them up close nesting in Orlando, Florida. These large white wading birds are Great Egrets but have they moved into Ontario to stay?

Photo of Great Egret Orlando On NaturalCrooksDotCom

This Great Egret is in breeding plumage. The photo was taken in March in Orlando, Florida.

Were Great Egrets Native to Ontario in the Past?

According to the Cornell University AllAboutBirds website more “than 95 percent of the Great Egrets in North America were killed for their plumes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” That makes it a bit difficult to know exactly what the original populations were like and where they were distributed.

According to the Environment Canada website “counts in the Great Lakes have greatly increased since the 1970s, and the discovery of new colonies in southern Canada may reflect an ongoing northward expansion of the breeding range.” That doesn’t tell me whether they were nesting here historically but it is encouraging news.

Photo of Great Egret Mallard on NaturalCrooksDotCom

I noticed the Mallards moved quickly out of the way as the Great Egret stalked past them.

Why Am I Only Seeing One Great Egret?

Depending on when and where you see Great Egrets in Ontario you may see only a solitary bird. Great Egrets prefer to nest in colonies but, like Great Blue Herons, they often disperse to hunt.

Later in the summer and early fall, you may also see single birds that are transients. They are either southern birds that have finished nesting for the year and are out exploring or they may be northern birds who have not paired or nested successfully and have dispersed for the season. It’s possible to see young birds, too, who are exploring new territories.

Photo of Great Egret Hunting On NaturalCrooksDotCom

What Do Great Egrets Eat?

Like Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets eat pretty much anything they can catch. They eat lots of small fish and some frogs but will also eat insects, birds, turtles, snakes, and even small mammals if they can catch them.

If I Want to Find a Great Egret in Ontario Where Can I Go?

Two places that might have Great Egrets when you visit are the Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area and Nottawasaga island. They are usually seen roosting at Luther Marsh in late June through September. You can also check ebird.org for recent sightings closer to you as small numbers of the birds nest and hunt in various parts of the province.

Photo of Great Egret On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Where Can I Report a Sighting of a Tagged Great Egret?

There is a useful article on banding and tagging of Great Egrets in Ontario on the ebird.org website.  It provides an email address to report sightings of tagged birds. In particular, some birds have been marked with, relatively, huge tags to try to determine where they migrate to for the winter. Reports have been submitted of sightings of Ontario birds in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Lesser Antilles and other hot spots.


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Have you seen one of these large white birds pacing quietly through a marsh near you? Please share your sighting with a comment.

40 thoughts on “What Large White Wading Bird Is Stalking through the Marshes of Southern Ontario?

  1. I live in Les Cedres. Quebec, Canada, where I have a horse ranch. The population has been boosted for the last 24 hours by a solitary Great Egret, a bird I haven’t seen here before, patrolling the short grass in the horse paddocks. The Egret is not bothered by the horses and happily approaches them to within a few feet, but a human any closer than about 20 feet prompts it to fly to a safer distance. Beautiful to see.

    • How lovely for you to see! There are two Egrets that often wander up into southern Canada at this time of year: the Great Egret and the Cattle Egret. Cattle Egrets are known to follow large grazing animals to catch the insects that move away when the cow, buffalo, or horse grazes. You may want to do a check on Google for photos of a Cattle Egret if your bird prefers the grasses to the shore. Thanks for sharing your sighting!

  2. Four egrets sighted on the Carp River near Richardson’s Side Road today. Third or fourth sighting of at least one bird at this spot where a piece of riverside parkland is being developed.

  3. I saw an Egret today in Welland, Ontario as I was driving. On my way back into town I pulled up to the spot I’d seen it but it was gone. I’d hoped to get a photo. Will keep an eye out to see if I can spot it again.

  4. July, 26th., 2017 We saw an egret in Port Dover ON & took photos of it. Also, a Lady was taking pictures & told us that she has seen 2 egrets at the same spot.

  5. I visit a marshy area in Milton a few times a week as there are always lots of birds there including a blue heron. Today I was lucky to see a Great Egret catching fish and took many photos of it. Hopefully it will continue to visit the same area.

  6. Two great egrets spotted July 2017 along March Rd. between Almonte and Hwy 417 (west of Ottawa). I had to do a double take as I have never seen them here before. Then two more along the Ottawa River (Brittania Mud Lake area in Ottawa). Exciting!

  7. A Great Egret was sharing a shallow bay on the Ottawa River just east of the Champlain Bridge with a Great Blue Heron this morning. They were both fishing and did not behave aggressively towards each other. What beautiful birds!

  8. Saw one of these beautiful birds as I was padding in my kayak south from Edenvale conservation area in Springwater got within 12 feet before it flew into a tree. There was a great blue heron there at the same time.

  9. I believe that I saw a Great Egret on Valley Inn Rd .
    Got several photos, just before a heavy rain .
    This was about 4;20 PM Aug 17.
    The bird was in shallow water about 25 ft. from my car.

  10. My husband has been seeing a flock of 5-6 Great Egrets every morning for the last 2 weeks in a marsh near Mannheim (village beside Kitchener, On). There is also a Great Blue Heron living in this marsh. Beautiful birds – glad to see they are making a comeback.

  11. I live in St. Marys, Ontario and have 3 in my backyard in a little marsh. Never have I seen 3 at one time as they tend to come early morning and be by themselves. Very unusual to have this many and a Blue Heron on site too.

  12. I saw a group of 4-6 of these beautiful creatures this morning in a small Creek area near my house.
    I would have taken pictures if I knew how uncommon it is to see them. I live in the North end of London Ontario. .

    • They are becoming more common each year in south-western Ontario — but they are still a beautiful bird to watch. Thanks for sharing your sighting!

  13. We saw this big white bird this morning , yesterday and last week , the first time I saw is the pond on Iron needle and high land , Kitchener . There is a pond beside Soybey . The last two time it was flying around that area as well .

  14. We have had an Egret hanging around Frenchmans Bay, Pickering for about a month now. Just saw him again this morning. Beautiful!

  15. I believe i saw either a heron or egret today in the Humber river in Toronto. Near Lawrence W and Weston road.

  16. When out golfing at Fescue’s Edge near Oakland, ON, we saw two flying overhead on Thursday Sept. 21st. There is a Marsh on the course which may attract them. It was lovely to see them in flight.

  17. Royal Botanical Gardens Arboretum marsh on October 9, 2017 (Hamilton/Burlington Ontario)

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