Monday Bird of the Week No.53 – Little Egret

Last week we saw a bird that has had highs and lows. This week, a bird that is very much seeing a massive natural success, one of the most naturally widespread birds in the world. The Little Egret.

Around ten years ago my partner spotted a Little Egret on the Scilly Isles. At the time it was still an unusual sighting (although they first bred in the UK in 1996). It has since become a standing joke in our household that almost from that moment, the Egrets started making an egress from their continental home out and across the UK.

Little Egret
Spurn, October 2013

There are now hundreds of breeding pairs, supplemented by thousands of wintering individuals. If you haven’t seen a Little Egret, you’ve just not been looking. They are on coastal estuaries, inland wetlands, I’ve even seen one in an urban park.

They are a relatively small, pure white heron. Superficially they could be mistaken for the Great White Egret, which is also increasingly seen in the UK. But they are much smaller, have a dark bill as opposed to yellow, and dark legs with greenish-yellow feet.

Little Egrets

One area I think herons are underestimated is their predatory intelligence. They will use their wings to create a canopy, both disrupting their own silhouette and providing tempting shade for fish. More remarkably, they will bait fish using bits of food, or just loose feathers exactly like a fly fisherman. They will drop these onto the water over and over, drawing the fish to the surface where they strike.

That lightning strike reflex is a blessing and a curse, and sometimes they will grab prey that is too big for them. But they still try swallow it, which has led to herons choking to death. But beyond that, fish, mammals, amphibians, birds, all are potential prey. Woe betide they pass within range.

Little Egret on the hunt

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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