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The Great Egret is a large heron with all-white plumage. Standing up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, this species can measure 80 to 104 cm (31 to 41 in) in length and have a wingspan of 131 to 170 cm (52 to 67 in). Body mass can range from 700 to 1,500 g (1.5 to 3.3 lb), with an average of around 1,000 g (2.2 lb). It is thus only slightly smaller than the Great Blue or Grey Heron (A. cinerea). Apart from size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. Males and females are identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults. Differentiated from the Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedius) by the gape, which extends well beyond the back of the eye in case of the Great Egret, but ends just behind the eye in case of the Intermediate Egret. It is a common species, usually easily seen. Sketch to differentiate Great Egret from Intermediate Egret at close range. It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes, ibises, and spoonbills, which extend their necks in flight. The Great Egret is not normally a vocal bird; at breeding colonies, however, it often gives a loud croaking cuk cuk cuk. 
The Great Egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with colder winters. It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest.