Great White Egret

Ardea alba

85-102cm

Appearance

This bird has longer wings and neck than the Little Egret. It is white and its neck is usually bent in an 'S' shape. The bill is yellow in the winter; it darkens when breeding, and there are also long, delicate plumes at the nape of the neck at this time. It holds its neck in when flying and its legs dangle obviously beyond the tail.

Habitat

Wet meadows, marshes, rivers, lakesides and estuaries are all known habitats. In Britain it nests in the marginal vegetation of these areas.

Character

Tends to feed early in the morning and late afternoon in the wetlands. It has two main techniques; it may be still in the water, waiting for prey to pass and then stab with its bill, or it wades, slowly pecking. Roosting occurs in beds of reeds, occasionally in association with Great White Egrets.

Food

Eats a plethora of things, from small mammals to insect larvae. Crustaceans, young birds, molluscs and fish are all part of its diet.

Breeding

Female lays 3-5 light-blue eggs and the male helps her to incubate them for 25-26 days. Parents also share the duty of feeding the young until they're able to fly, which happens between 38 and 58 days.

Population

Hungary and Austria are the traditional breeding grounds for these birds; they used to spend winter in the Mediterranean, but recent birds based in France are more likely to head for The Netherlands and Britain for the colder months. The first recorded breeding episode in Britain was in 2012 when two pairs bred in Somerset.

Observation Tips

Its small numbers make it a rare find, but when seen, this bird is often perched at the tops of trees, particularly the dead trees poking out of marshes. If birds are seen carrying sticks, this is often an indication of breeding in the area.

Voice

Utters low, guttural caws and croaks when breeding.
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