Little Egret

Egretta garzetta

55-65cm

Appearance

This is a stark white bird with vivid yellow toes, black legs, a yellow eye and a long neck. Its bill is black, narrow and pointed, and a small area of skin at its base is usually grey, though the colour can vary. It has delicate plumes on its breast and nape which are seen in spring. Immature birds don't have plumes or yellow feet.

Habitat

This bird can be found throughout the year in Britain and Ireland; it prefers marshy, shallow waters, estuaries and the banks of rivers.

Character

When flying, it appears relaxed, with its legs trailing and its neck in an 'S' shape. It stirs up prey in the mud with its feet, then pursues small fish, stabbing at them energetically with its bill. It may also be still when feeding. It usually feeds alone but roosts in colonies, usually in trees and bushes; it is a strong climber.

Food

Diet consists mainly of small fish, particularly sticklebacks, loaches, tench and small carp. Amphibians and aquatic insects are also eaten, and birds on the coast fish and eat crustaceans.

Breeding

Female lays 4-5 eggs which are incubated for 21 days by both parents; both parents feed the young by regurgitation. After approximately 30 days the young leave the nest, and can fly 10-15 days later.

Population

European birds migrate south-west to spend winter in central Africa; juveniles spread, majority of them heading north, some moving south. During autumn, there are above 4 500 birds in Britain and Ireland.

Observation Tips

No major challenges with identification, and the bird spends a lot of time in the open, so it should be simple to see from Norfolk to Cornwall. Little Sea on Studland Heath in Dorset has an example of a roost which offers the view of Little Egrets flying in groups.

Voice

Predominately a quiet bird, will make croaks and quacks within breeding groups.
Back to Bird Index