email a friend
printable version
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species is classified as Near Threatened because despite its large range it occupies a restricted habitat and is patchily distributed. For this reason it is assumed to have a moderately small and declining global population.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

Hydranassa rufescens Stotz et al. (1996)

66-81 cm. 450 g. Polymorphic egret with dark and white phases, both of which vary. White morphs are separable from other egrets by their larger size (except E. alba), pink bill base and slate-grey legs. The two-tone bill and shaggy neck are distinctive. Dark morph birds are slate-grey with a red-brown head, neck and plumes. Juveniles are greyish brown and pale below with a largely black bill.

Distribution and population
Egretta rufescens occurs in Baja California and disperses south along the Pacific coast of Mexico, but the majority are found in the Caribbean along the southern coast of the USA, through the Caribbean islands and down the Central American coast to northern Colombia and Venezuela. Surveys in western Mexico identified 39 breeding sites including eighteen nesting sites in Baja California Sur, eight in Sinaloa, six in Baja California, five in Sonora, and only two in Chiapas. The largest Mexican colony supports 258 breeding pairs while the average colony size was 35 pairs. The population estimate for the west coast of Mexico was between 954 and 1,260 breeding pairs (Palacios and Amador-Silva 2008). Numbers have not been collated for the entire Caribbean, but the following figures have been compiled: 1,000 pairs at Green Island, Texas, 200 - 300 pairs elsewhere in Texas, <200 pairs at Tamaulipas, Mexico (Laguna Madre), 50 pairs at Inagua, Bahamas and 50 pairs elsewhere in the Bahamas, and up to 200 pairs in Florida (Palacios and Amador-Silva 2008, S. Melville in litt. 2008). Accurate data are not available for other sites in the Caribbean, but latest information suggests it is a common resident (and migrant) throughout coastal Cuba and on many cays - 23 are listed with one, Cayo Fragoso noted as a breeding colony (A. Mitchell in litt. 2008); in the Dominican Republic it is considered a locally common breeding resident, and appears to be more common today than in the 1930's (R. Rodríguez-Mojica in litt. 2008); in Puerto Rico it is reportedly very rare (R. Rodríguez-Mojica in litt. 2008); 180 individuals were recorded at one site on the Yucatan in March 2006 demonstrating either that there are a lot more birds than previously thought to occur in the region or that it was a previously poorly recorded migrant (B. MacKinnon in litt. 2009); and finally data from BirdLife International's World Biodiversity Database of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) suggests that there may also be important numbers in Belize with up to c.5,000 resident individuals estimated from three IBAs in the country. This suggests a total of c.10,500-11,300 mature individuals with an unknown additional number in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Population trends are not well understood; certainly the species seems to be increasing in parts of its range where it is well protected and has safe nesting sites, but declines are reported at the majority of sites.

Population justification
Population estimates throughout its range are: 954-1,260 breeding pairs on the Pacific coast; 1,000 pairs at Green Island, Texas; 200-300 pairs elsewhere in Texas; fewer than 200 pairs at Tamaulipas, Mexico; 50 pairs at Inagua, Bahamas; 50 pairs elsewhere in the Bahamas; up to 200 pairs in Florida, and up to c.5,000 resident individuals in Belize. This suggests a total of c.10,500-11,300 mature individuals with an unknown additional number in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Therefore it is best placed in the band 10,000-19,999 mature individuals, equivalent to 15,000-29,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 15,000-30,000 individuals.

Trend justification
Population trends are not well understood; certainly the species seems to be increasing in parts of its range where it is well protected and has safe nesting sites, but declines are reported at the majority of sites.

The species frequents shallow coastal waters, salt-pans, open marine flats and shorelines; it is rarely recorded away from the coast. It breeds on islands and in mangroves. It feeds mainly on small fish, frogs, tadpoles and crustaceans, using a variety of feeding techniques. It will breed in almost all months of the year, with seasonal peaks that vary in timings across the range. Most breeding takes place along northern coastlines within its range, with non-breeding birds dispersing to the south in the Caribbean and along the Pacific coast.

Populations were heavily exploited for food in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, fluctuations occur at some colonies, apparently relating to predators which can cause rapid declines; recoveries have been observed following predator control. Threats to the species are not well understood, but it is likely to have declined in parts of its range owing to commercial development of the coastline.

Conservation Actions Underway
Nineteen of the 39 breeding sites identified on the Pacific coast of Mexico occur in protected areas (Palacios and Amador-Silva 2008). Ongoing studies are underway on the Caribbean coast of Mexico and the southern USA. Conservation Actions Proposed
Clarify its population status in Cuba, Belize and other parts of the Caribbean. Monitor populations to determine trends. Identify threats to the species. Implement predator control at key colonies.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Green, R.F. 2006. A simpler, more general method of finding the optimal foraging strategy for Bayesian birds. Oikos 112(2): 274-284.

Palacios, E. Amador-Silva, E. S. 2008. Status and breeding distribution of the Reddish Egret in Western Mexico.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Species factsheet from HeronConservation - The IUCN-SSC Heron Specialist Group

Text account compilers
Bird, J., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Sharpe, C J

Bruzual, L., Green, C., Kasner, A., Kushlan, J., MacKinnon, B., Melville, S., Mitchell, A., Palacios, E., Rodriguez, R., Valdez, E.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Egretta rufescens. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Ardeidae (Herons)
Species name author (Gmelin, 1789)
Population size 10000-19999 mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 349,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species