Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Reddish Egret - Egretta rufescens
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General Comments This is one of the very few wading birds on the state list that does not breed in North Carolina. The Reddish Egret is a relatively uncommon North American bird that nests north only to the southern half of Florida, and casually to coastal South Carolina. Thankfully, there is a modest northward post-breeding flight (as seen with most other herons and egrets); thus, a few birds are reported annually in the state. Reports have greatly increased since about 2000, probably due to an increase in the Gulf Coast population. This species has two color morphs -- a white morph (with all white feathers) and a dark morph, which is the dominant form in the East. In fact, the dark morph juvenal plumage (mostly a dull grayish-flesh coloring), with a dark bill, was not adequately illustrated in field guides until around 1980. This species, like the Tricolored, strongly favors salt and brackish waters, and it is mainly seen near inlets and other shallow tidal waters, where it often can picked out at a distance by its odd, lurching feeding behavior. At times it can be seen at impoundments and other freshwater pools and ponds along the coast. North Carolina has just two records away from the coastal region, one far inland.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Primarily a post-breeding visitor, though a few birds have lingered into winter (or overwintered) in recent years. Rare to very uncommon, though annual, along the southern half of the coast, but mostly rare on the Outer Banks. More likely to be seen in the Sunset Beach area (Brunswick), and also along the coast toward Fort Fisher (New Hanover). Typically from mid-June to mid-Oct, primarily mid-Jul to late Sep, very rarely in the spring. A handful of recent winter records, including two at Cape Lookout seen from 21 Feb - 10 Mar 2010 that probably overwintered. Peak counts: 6, Portsmouth Island, 21 Jul 2002; 5-6 at Lake Medcalf in Sunset Beach, early Oct 2005; 5, east end of Shackleford Banks (Carteret), 11 Oct 2015. The only clearly inland record appears to be one at Lake Mattamuskeet, 9-29 Dec 2008. Perhaps 5% of the reports are of white-phase individuals.
Piedmont One report/record. One was seen at a small lake 13 miles southeast of Charlotte on 27 Jul 1947 (Birds of North Carolina, 1959 edition). No details were provided, and the report has not been reviewed by the NC BRC.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Your best bet for finding the species is to check around the inlets in Brunswick in Jul and Aug. This often means putting up with hordes of beach-goers, and parking well away from the inlets (public parking can be blocks away from the ends of the roads). A scope would be helpful, as the birds may be seen on distant islands and flats.
Attribution LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2016-06-01], LeGrand[2013-12-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AZ, CA, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, TX

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002