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Little Egret

Egretta garzetta

Often thought of as a newcomer, the Little Egret is actually making a triumphant return to waterways around the UK.

Little Egret

Little Egret

Little Egret

Little Egret perched on a tree

Little Egret

Close up of a Little Egret in flight

Little Egret

Close up portrait of a Little Egret

Little Egret

Little Egret foraging for prey

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Egretta garzetta


Herons, storks and ibises

Conservation status:




55cm to 65cm


88cm to 95cm


350g to 550g

Appearance & Identification

The Little Egret is a small, all-white egret, similar in shape but half the size of a Grey Heron.

What do Little Egrets look like?

Little Egrets are elegant, snow-white wading birds with long legs and a long S-shaped neck. Their straight, dagger-like bill is black, and their eyes are yellow. These birds have black legs with characteristic yellow feet, although this feature is often hidden under the water.

Female Little Egrets are smaller than their male counterparts but otherwise similar. In the breeding season, both sexes develop long paired plumes on the nape of the neck and long feathers on the breast and shoulders.

Juveniles appear similar to non-breeding adults but have dull greenish bills and legs and lack yellow feet.

Little Egrets in the UK are most likely to be confused with another all-white species, the Great White Egret (Ardea alba). However, that species is much taller and larger, with a yellow bill and yellow upper legs.

Close up of a Little Egret

Close up of a Little Egret

How big are Little Egrets?

The Little Egret may appear large in flight or when standing tall with a fully extended neck, but they can look dramatically smaller when hunched at rest.


Adult Little Egrets have a body length of 55 to 65 centimetres. They are upright birds with long legs and long necks. These features allow them to walk in the water and spear their prey.


Little Egrets weigh just 350 to 550 grams, similar to a Woodpigeon.


The Little Egret has a wingspan of 88 to 95 cm.

Little Egret in flight over the reeds, Norfolk, UK

Little Egret in flight over the reeds, Norfolk, UK

Calls & Sounds

Little Egrets could not be described as musical birds, although they can be rather vocal.

What sound does a Little Egret make?

Little Egrets produce a variety of harsh squawking calls to express alarm and aggression or during courtship displays. They also call when landing and while feeding, and are frequently heard as they take off after being disturbed.

Little Egret Call

Alan Dalton, XC611627. Accessible at


Little Egrets are specialised hunters with some clever tricks for catching their prey.

What do Little Egrets eat?

Little Egrets are predators that search for live prey in the water and on land. They do most of their hunting in shallow fresh and saltwater environments, usually by stalking through the water.

They frequently shuffle their yellow feet to disturb their quarry from cover and may half-run-half-fly in pursuit of prey in the shallows.

Little Egret prey items:

  • Small fish
  • Frogs
  • Dragonflies, crickets, and other insects
  • Small crustaceans
  • Snails, worms, and other invertebrates
  • Small birds
  • Rodents

What do Little Egret chicks eat?

Baby Little Egrets are fed the regurgitated prey of their parents. They will eat from the nest floor or directly from their parent’s bill.

Little Egret hunting for fish in the water

Little Egret hunting for fish in the water

Habitat & Distribution

There was a time when seeing a Little Egret in the UK was cause for celebration, but today they are much easier to spot. Read on to learn where you might find these elegant waterbirds.

What is the habitat of a Little Egret?

Little Egrets are most at home in aquatic and coastal marine environments like estuaries, rocky shores, rivers, lakes, ponds and marshes. They will also feed in flooded terrestrial environments like farmlands.

What is the range of a Little Egret?

Little Egrets are a very widespread species, occurring across much of Europe, Southern Asia, Australia, and Africa. In the UK, they are most common in Wales and the southeast coasts of England, although they are spreading inland and further north as far as Scotland.

Where do Little Egrets live?

Little Egrets spend most of their time walking on the ground or through shallow water. They also perch and roost in trees.

Close up of a Little Egret catching a frog in its natural wetland habitat

Close up of a Little Egret catching a frog in its natural wetland habitat

How rare are Little Egrets?

Little Egrets remain uncommon over much of the United Kingdom, although they are locally common in some areas. Their population is increasing, and their range has been expanding since they recolonised the British Isles in the 1980s.

Where can you see Little Egrets in the UK?

Look for Little Egrets in any shallow water environment, particularly in the south and East of England. Norfolk is a popular place for birdwatchers to go and watch them in their natural habitat.

Little Egret populations are rising in the UK

Little Egret populations are rising in the UK

Lifespan & Predation

Humans have proved to be the greatest threat to the Little Egret, although these birds are a relatively rare example of a species making a comeback in the modern era.

How long do Little Egrets live?

Little Egrets live for an average of five years, although some individuals have survived for over twenty years.

What are the predators of Little Egrets?

Adult Little Egrets have few predators, although birds like harriers, Sparrowhawks, gulls, and crows may take eggs and chicks.

Are Little Egrets protected?

Little Egrets in the UK are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Are Little Egrets endangered?

Little Egrets are not endangered. Their population is increasing, and they are assessed as a ‘Least Concern’ species according to the IUCN. In the UK, these birds have a green conservation status and are increasing after disappearing from the region centuries ago.

Close up of a Little Egret standing in the water

Close up of a Little Egret standing in the water

Nesting & Breeding

Little Egrets began breeding in the UK in 1996 after a very long absence. Continue reading to learn more about their nesting behaviours in the UK.

Where do Little Egrets nest?

Little Egrets nest in colonies, frequently in the company of the larger Grey Heron. These colonies are often atop large trees, although they may also nest in reedbeds or bushes. Both adults work together to build a simple platform of twigs.

What do Little Egret eggs look like?

Little Egrets lay one to seven blue-green eggs, each measuring approximately 46 millimetres long and 34 millimetres wide.

Do Little Egrets mate for life?

It is unknown whether Little Egrets form long-lasting pair bonds, although they are monogamous during each breeding season.

Little egret nest and eggs

The nest of a Little Egret with eggs inside

Little egret feeding young chick

Little Egret feeding one of its young chicks


Are Little Egrets aggressive?

Little Egrets are generally solitary and territorial during the day. They will defend their feeding area aggressively against other egrets if need be. However, they are more gregarious at night when flocks gather to roost.

Where do Little Egrets sleep at night?

Little Egrets sleep in trees and reedbeds over water.

Little Egrets fighting over food - they have a habit of doing this, even when their food sources are abundant

Little Egrets fighting over food - they have a habit of doing this, even when their food sources are abundant


Little Egrets can be sedentary, partially migratory, or fully migratory in various parts of their range. Read on to learn more about Little Egret movements in the UK.

Do Little Egrets migrate?

Little Egrets were rare winter visitors to the UK until about 30 years ago. Today they are resident in the south of the UK throughout the year, and many more join the local population each winter on migration from mainland Europe.

Are Little Egrets native to the UK?

Little Egrets are native to the United Kingdom. Until the late 1980s, these birds were considered a vagrant in the United Kingdom, despite once being a common species. They were wiped out in the 1700s due to the desire for their fashionable plume feathers.

Today, these birds are making a welcome comeback. They first bred in 1989 and have continued to grow from strength to strength since then, colonising northwards and inland as they go.

A flock of Little Egrets in flight

A flock of Little Egrets in flight


Do you get Little Egrets in Scotland?

Little Egrets remain relatively uncommon in Scotland, although they are becoming increasingly numerous. These birds are a regular sight at places like the Montrose Basin and Solway Firth.

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