It wasn't until a few years back that I saw a picture of a cowbird in a magazine, and instantly I knew there was something wrong. (I'm kinda smart that way.) So I went to someone I figured should know — a farmer. I showed him the dark little thing the editors had obviously mislabeled, and asked him what he thought. He shrugged and nodded toward the white specks in his field. "Well, now, the difference is, them's Texas cow birds. Bigger an' pertier'n everbody else's."
Okay, so maybe that's not exactly the way it happened, but nonetheless I was very familiar with Cattle Egrets long before I knew their real name. And living in coastal Texas, we still have plenty of chances to see these atypical egrets year-round on a pretty regular basis.
Unlike most herons, Cattle Egrets generally prefer foraging in grass to wading in water. They can be found in fields and pastures around the area, especially where there are cattle grazing and disturbing the crickets and other insects that make up the greater part of their diet.
While similar in size and coloring to the Snowy Egret, Cattle Egrets tend to be a little stockier and have a thicker neck. They also have an orange or yellow bill and dirty yellow legs and feet, compared to the Snowy's dark bill and legs and "golden slipper" feet. The immature Cattle Egret sports darker bill, legs and feet.
non-breeding plumage vs. breeding plumage
During breeding season, the Cattle Egret displays buff-colored patches on its crest, chest and back.
I've read reports that the Cattle Egret population is slowly declining in many parts of North America. From what I can tell, though, the breed is doing just fine here in Texas. They are abundant and going strong, as a Texas cow bird should.
For a great collection of more bird photos and information, check out Bird Photography Weekly #12.