Little Egret Egretta garzetta
- IdentificationVisual tips about this species
- BehaviourHabitat, behaviour, and food
- PopulationSubspecies and numbers
- ReproductionNesting and eggs
The Little Egret is more delicate-looking than any other heron-like bird which occurs in Britain. It is much smaller than a Grey Heron, with snowy white plumage, a long pointed black bill and black legs with strikingly yellow feet.
Breeding adults acquire additional, more conspicuous plumes on their mantle and scapulars as well as long crest feathers. Juveniles have no plumes at all.
Little Egrets are usually silent except at their roosting sites and breeding colonies, where they make a number of high-pitched grunting calls. One particularly distinctive sound is a soft 'blubbing'.
The plumes which are present in spring serve to emphasise the threat and appeasement gestures given at the nest.
Most of the European population migrates west and south, mostly to north Africa but also, to an increasing degree, to the european side of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts. After fledging, juveniles disperse almost randomly from July to September. This movement is presumably governed by prevailing feeding conditions.
Feeds by the edges of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, brackish lagoons and saltpans. Breeds in waterside trees and bushes.
Small fish, insects and molluscs.
Like most herons, has suffered large declines in the 19th Century due to the feather trade, but has shown signs of improvement since then. Increasing its range northwards in Europe, with large numbers of birds now present in Britain, where it will surely soon start to nest. In eastern Europe, numbers have mostly declined and in southern Europe numbers vary according to the severity of the winter; harsh weather can lead to massive mortality rates.
Monotypic within the region.
Where in Britain and Ireland
Now a regular visitor to the UK, particularly the south of England, where there a number of large communal roosts. The largest concentration is at Thorney Deeps in West Sussex, where between 50-150 birds roost each day in bushes to the south of the Great Deep. Odd birds can now turn up virtually anywhere and in 2001 between 98-111 pairs bred, including the first breeding records for Cheshire & Wirral and Wales. This total represents a 50% increase in breeding pairs since 2000. In 2002 there were between 146-162 pairs including the first breeding in north Wales, Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk.
Population in Europe
The European population consists of about 30,000 pairs. Russian population 4500-6000 Turkish population 5000-10000
Where in Europe
A widespread waterbird in southern Europe, especially in coastal areas. Colonies can be observed at Lake Manyas (Turkey), Acebuche on the Coto Donana (Spain), La Noria on the Ebro Delta (Spain) and Castro Marim (Portugal) for example.
Best UK Site
Chichester Harbour - West Sussex A large number of Little Egrets wander the various creeks and inter-tidal channels in Chichester Harbour throughout the year. Favoured haunts are the mudbanks opposite Dell Quay (two miles SW of Chichester), the saltings and mud surrounding Pilsey Island and off West Itchenor. At dusk, birds depart westwards to the roost on Thorney Island. [Taken from the book 'Finding Birds in Britain' by Lee Evans, which includes details of more sites for this species]
Late April and May. Nests in mixed colonies, forming large heronries. Made in trees and tall bushes in water, from twigs and branches.
3-5, green-blue, laid in late April to mid-May. Incubation takes 21-22 days. Young fledge after 40-45 days. 1 brood per year.