Little egret, very beautiful white wading bird


The little species is the most widespread egrets in Europe. We recognize it by its plumage pure white, its S-neck, its high black legs and yellow toes. The wader displays all its splendor during the nuptial period, when it draws up its feathers in a bundle on its head. Light on this elegant bird piscivorous.

Little egret: identity card

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) is a species of bird belonging to the order of pelecaniforms and the Ardeidae family, which totals 9 species in Western Europe. Medium to large in size, Ardeidae are found on all continents (except Antarctica) where they occupy a wide variety of wet and aquatic habitats. They are distinguished in particular by their beak in the shape of a dagger, characteristic of the piscivorous diet adopted by the majority of the group.

A graceful white plumage

The little egret is one of the smallest species herons with immaculate white plumage. It has a slender body, a long neck and a very thin black bill, slightly curved downwards and bluish gray at the base. Black in color, its high paws with fingers yellow. During the mating season, its plumage is adorned with butts, ornamental feathers located at the back of the head which earned its name egret. Their S-necks – at rest and in flight – stretch when the wader is on alert or grabs prey. This graceful little heron displays a size of 55 to 65 cm for a wingspan of 85 to 95 cm and a weight of approximately 500 g. Both sexes display an aspect identical.

Little egret, sensitive to cold

Fearing low temperatures, the little egret breeds in areas temperate from southern Europe, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. She is absent from all of Northern Europe, almost all of Russia, South America and part of Oceania. With the global warming, the species tends to move north of its range. In France, it frequents mainly the coasts (Mediterranean and Atlantic) and can sometimes be observed inland. The bird lives in a wide range of environments wet open and shallow, provided with fresh, brackish or salt water. Little Egret occupies the banks of rivers and lakes, marshes, rivers, ponds, rice paddies, flooded meadows, sandy beaches, mudflats and mangroves.

Little egret hunts on the lookout

Piscivorous with tendency carnivorous, the little egret consumes a wide variety of vertebrate creatures (small Pisces and their larvae, small lizards, amphibians or birds) and invertebrates: worms, crustaceans, molluscs, various aquatic insects and others, such as spiders). The wader uses two main techniques of hunt : on the lookout, it camps in shallow water near floating vegetation to surprise its prey and seize them with its formidable beak. She can also stay on A paw while the other searches the mud to extract its victims.

Little egret, little sharing

During the nesting period, when colonies are created, the little egret is an animal gregarious that live in small groups of the same species or mixed, with other Ardeidae. The waders rest together, either on the ground in an open environment, or perched on the edge of the forest close to the water. On the other hand, at mealtime, the little egret shows itself territorial and does not tolerate the presence of a congener. The birds stay away from each other and fiercely defend their feeding area. Partial migrants, the populations living the most northerly of their range spend the winter in the regions of the south.

The little egret’s flat nest

During the parade bridal, the male proudly displays his ornamental feathers to seduce his partner and discourage his rivals. The little egret usually nests in the ground, in reed beds, underbrush or damp woodlands. It happens to nest in trees, along the coasts or rivers. Using woody plants (twigs, reeds, twigs), the couple builds a nest that looks like a platform. The female lays 3-5 light greenish blue eggs and theincubation, provided by both adults, lasts 21 to 25 days. The chicks, which feature white down, pinkish beaks and legs, are born in order of laying. After being fed with the regurgitation of their parents, the young egrets first practice flying near the nest then leave for good around 5 weeks.

The little egret, once persecuted

At the end of the XIXe century and early twentiethe, egrets were captured en masse to feed the trade ornamental feathers used in the making of ladies’ hats. Formerly considered harmful (they were accused of impacting the populations of river fish), herons experienced a drastic decline in their numbers leading, at the beginning of the 1980s, to their classification in protected species in France. Since then, egrets have regained stable numbers and a more extensive distribution which no longer makes them an endangered species. The lifetime Little Egret is 9 to 13 years old in the wild.