The Cattle Egret is a stocky species, averaging 51 cm long and weighing 200-600 g, with a short thick bill. The non-breeding adult has all-white plumage, a yellow bill, and greyish-yellow legs. When breeding, orange buff plumes develop on the back, breast and crown, and the legs become orange pink. The sexes are similar, but juvenile birds have a black bill.
This bird will give soft kre calls in flight, and a gruff rick-reck on the ground.