First nesting of the cattle egret in Switzerland

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During the breeding season, the cattle egret is decked out in its characteristic
During the breeding season, the cattle egret is decked out in its characteristic nuptial plumage. The rest of the year, the plumage is all white and the beak yellow. photo © Mathias Schäf

Switzerland has a new breeding bird: the cattle egret has nested on Swiss soil for the first time, the culmination of a long evolutionary process. Sightings of the little white heron have multiplied in recent years.

Sempach. - Among birds, the story of the dispersal of the cattle egret is the most spectacular of all. In the 19th century, it was found only in Africa, south of the Sahara, before colonizing every continent except Antarctica. Today, there are 90,000 breeding pairs in Europe.

This expansion in Europe also concerns Switzerland. In the space of a few years, it has gone from being a rare spring host to a year-round species. This year, a pair was even formed, probably from a group of around 40 cattle egrets wintering in Ticino, and successfully raised a brood of four young. A first for Switzerland!

The fact that herons nest in a protected area shows that, despite their adaptability, they are sensitive to disturbance during the breeding season. Other heron species are on Switzerland’s doorstep and could nest here, provided the wetlands are restored and protected from disturbance.

The cattle egret

The heron has white plumage and a yellow beak. It resembles the great egret, only much smaller. During the breeding season, it sports extravagant nuptial plumage. It gets its name from its propensity to hang around cattle, but also horses and sheep. The latter scare away the insects on which the heron feeds.

A new lease of life for large waders

In recent years, the numbers of various wading birds have been on the increase in Switzerland. Find out more on the Breeding Bird Atlas 2013-2016 page and in the Wader brochure at