Elegant and poised heron with white plumage.
The little egret is a species of small heron. It has a long neck and a slender, elegant body bedecked in entirely white plumage. In the breeding season, little egrets have two, long neck plumes and similar elongated feathers along their backs. During this time, the bare skin between the bird’s bill and eyes, normally blue, turns red. The bill is long, dark and dagger-like. Long black legs end in large, sharply contrasting yellow feet. Sexes are alike and appearance generally remains similar throughout the year. Juveniles have slightly duller legs and feet than the adults. Little egret chicks are covered in white downy feathers.
The little egret’s voice is a harsh ‘khaah’ and other grating sounds heard at colonies, otherwise it is mostly silent. Its greeting call is a loud ‘da-wah’.
The little egret eats small fish, insects, amphibians and worms. It will stride through shallows kicking its feet in order to upturn food, or will wait motionless to ambush fish. Small reptiles and birds are also eaten on occasion.
Little Egret fishing
In Victorian times, the little egret’s beautiful feathers were a popular adornment on ladies’ hats, and the demand for these feathers nearly led to the extinction of the species.
The little egret had a wide and varied habitat, which includes shallow lakes, wetlands, lagoons, salt pans, river, canals and swamps. It is becoming increasingly common in southern Britain and can often be spotted on flooded land. It is most common along the south and east coasts of England and Wales. Here it can be seen all year round, though number increase in autumn in winter as birds arrive from overseas. Little egrets are sociable birds and are often seen in small flocks. They can be seen at a great many RSPB reserves at various wetlands, marshes and coastal areas.
Little Egret coming in to land
The little egret is the most common white heron-like bird in Europe. In flight, the little egret holds its head and neck hunched, while its long legs trail behind, ending in dangling yellow feet. While roosting, the little egret will appear hunched up, but when poised motionless waiting for prey it is most elegant. Little egrets will also chase prey over land. They are also familiar sights moving through herds of cattle.
Little egrets nest in colonies. Their nests are usually a platform of sticks built in trees or shrubs, or almonds reeds. The female will lay a clutch of 3-4 greenish-blue eggs, which both adults will take turns in incubating for a period of 21-25 days. The fledgling period for the young is 50-55 days, during which time they are cared for by both the adults, who will raise 1 brood a year.
Little egrets typically live for 5 years but can live for up to 13.
Little egrets are migratory with northern European populations travelling to Africa, although some stay in southern Europe.
The little egret has a UK conservation status of Green. The UK breeding populations counts approximately 700 pairs, and the UK wintering population is around 4,500 birds. The species first arrived in Britain in 1950s and their numbers here have been steadily increasing ever since.
Despite their large frame, these greyish-white birds are elegant and graceful, often found statuesque beside ponds.
Originating in Africa, the western Mediterranean and sub-tropical Asia, the cattle egret has expanded naturally over the last hundred years to South America in the late 1800’s and North America as recently as the early 1950’s. Australia recorded its first migrants in 1940 whilst New Zealand’s population of egrets was established as late as 1960.