The Little Egret – Egretta garzetta



We have three resident birds on our reserve so here is a little information for you. Whether they will breed or not is another thing but we hope they stay.

Key information
What they eat: Fish. Measurements: Length: 55-65cm Wingspan: 88-95cm
Weight: 350-550g Feather colour: White Leg colour: Yellow
Beak: Black Long Powerful Medium thickness
Natural habitats: Farmland Grassland Marine and intertidal Urban and suburban Wetland

The little egret is a small white heron with attractive white plumes on the crest, back and chest, black legs and bill and yellow feet. It first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989 and first bred in Dorset in 1996. Its colonization followed naturally from a range expansion into western and northern France in previous decades. It is now at home on numerous south coast sites, both as a breeding species and as a winter visitor.

In 1957, there were just 23 recordings of single individuals. Now there are 660-740 pairs and 4,500 birds that overwinter. In 1996, Brownsea island nature reserve in Poole , Dorset was the home of the first breeding pair, followed by a colony of 12 pairs in County Cork the following year. They are strange characters either standing very still or treading water, disturbing the mud picking out the small fry in the shallows. Otherwise, they can be seen dashing through the shallows, chasing and stabbing at the fish as they go. In the breeding season, they acquire some lacy plumes on the back of the crown, breast, and mantle: strikingly beautiful and graceful at the same time.

From the 17th – 19th Century, Egret plumes have been used to decorate hats. The 19th Century ornithologist, Frank Chapman, noted over forty different species in 700 women’s hats from hummingbirds to ostriches. This global trade meant that in the early 20th century, egret feathers could cost £875 in today’s prices. As well as egret farms, the main source was through shooting and snaring. It has been estimated to be between five million and 200 million birds slaughtered annually for their feathers and skins.
Everything came to a head in 1889 at Didsbury, Manchester, when the Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was formed by pioneering female conservationists. Appalled at the cost to all bird species, the little egret became a symbol of rebellion against the trade. In 1914, the RSPB received a royal warrant and in 1920, the bird plume trade was suppressed in law.