Ciconiiforme Order – Ardeidae Family
L : 55-65 cm
Env : 86-104 cm
Poids : 280-640 gr
LONGEVITY: up to 22 years
Little Egret is a small and elegant egret, with slight neck, black, thin, pointed bill and black legs with yellow feet.
Adult in breeding plumage has greyish-blue face and reddish lores. We can see two white long and fine feathers on the rear crown, extending from the nape to mid-neck. It also has “aigrettes”, long feathers on the upper breast and recurved scapular feathers.
At this period, the base of the lower mandible is greyish. Feet are bright orange, even sometimes reddish for short time.
In winter plumage, the Little Egret has black bill, greyish lores and pale yellow or greenish-yellow feet. It lacks the long nape feathers, and the “aigrettes” on its body. Eyes are pale yellow.
Both sexes are similar.
Juvenile resembles adult in winter, with duller or greenish bill and legs, and greenish-grey feet, with less contrasts.
We can find several subspecies, E.g. garzetta, nigripes, immaculata, gularis, schistacea and dimorpha. They differ by feet, legs, bill and lores’ colours. Size of the bill is different in some races such as gularis and schistacea.
VOICE: SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO
Little Egret is rather silent away from colonies, but we can hear a hoarse “kgarrk” or a long “aaahk” when it takes off or during disputes on feeding areas.
Little Egret frequent a wide variety of open wetlands with fresh, brackish or salt shallow water. It is visible on river and lake’s shores, in marshes, rice fields, flooded areas, sandy beaches, mudflats and mangroves, according to the range. It also follows cattle in drier areas.
This species usually frequents lowlands, but according to the range, it may be found between 1400 and 2000 metres of elevation.
Little Egret breeds in temperate regions of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Most of populations are resident, but the northernmost birds migrate to Africa or Southern Asia. They migrate in large scattered groups.
Little Egret starts to colonize the New World. It breeds in the Bahamas and has been observed in Caribbean and Suriname.
Little Egret feeds alone or in small groups with other Ardeidae, but birds are fairly apart from each other and defend strongly their feeding area.
This bird feeds mainly on aquatic insects, crustaceans, small fish, amphibians, molluscs, spiders, worms, reptiles and small birds. It feeds by day, using several kinds of techniques such as the typical “food stirring”. The bird stirs the sand or mud with one foot, in order to flush some preys, and then, when the prey is detected, it jabs it with its pointed bill.
Little Egret walks slowly in shallow water, or along the shores, but the commonest technique shows the bird standing motionless in shallow water or at the edge, waiting for prey coming close to it, and then it spears it with the bill. For this technique, the Little Egret may use the “upright” posture with erected neck and body, or the “crouched” posture with neck and body parallel to the ground.
This egret may also follow cattle in the fields, in order to catch insects, pursuing them by running after the preys.
This species feeds during the day, mainly in the early morning and in the late afternoon.
Little Egrets gather at roost with other heron’s species in mangroves, reedbeds and dead branches over open water.
The breeding season starts after the male arrive first on the breeding area. It begins to collect nest materials for the nest-site. It tries to attract a female, but it also defends the site against the other males.
Little Egret performs courtship displays such as “stretch” display with raised head and neck, bill pointed upwards, while displaying the nuptial long feathers and the bright colours of the bare parts. Other displays are accompanied by bill-clappering. Some aerial displays show the male flying around the nesting-site with outstretched neck and sometimes legs hang down, while beating slowly the wings.
When the female is attracted, both mates still perform some aggressive displays, but little by little, the behaviour becomes less violent and the birds perform mutual preening at nest. Then, both adults build the nest and copulation takes place in it.
Little Egret flies with folded neck into the shoulders, and legs and feet held out behind the body. It can take off from the water. The long and broad wings are very powerful.
The flight is usually slow but strong. This bird usually uses flapping flight and is able to cover long distance flights during migrations.
Breeding season occurs between March and June in Palearctic, but it may vary according to the range in the other parts of the habitat.
Little Egret breeds in colonies with other Ardeidae species. Nest is placed on the ground or in reedbeds, in trees up to 20 metres above the ground, or in bushes, always near water or on it. The nest-site may be situated in flooded areas or wooded islands, but also in marsh vegetation.
Both adults build the nest. The male brings materials to the female which arranges them. It is a platform made with sticks or reed stems, and it is usually a flimsy structure.
Female lays 3 to 4 greenish-blue eggs every 1 or 2 days. Incubation starts with the first egg laid, and lasts about 21-25 days by both adults. They take turns of about 3-4 hours, and they perform some ritual displays with fluffed plumage and series of bows accompanied by calls.
At hatching, the chicks are covered with white down, and they have pink bill and legs turning bluish-grey very soon.
They are fed by both parents by regurgitation directly into the bill.
At about three weeks of age, young starts to climb into the close branches. They can fly at about five weeks and follow the adults for learning how to feed themselves. They fledge about 40-45 days after hatching. They roost every night at the colony with the adults.
Little Egret feeds mainly on aquatic insects, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, molluscs, reptiles, worms, spiders, and small birds.
Preys are usually swollen whole according to their size. Indigestible parts are regurgitated as pellets including the hard parts such as claws, keratin, bones, feathers…
PROTECTION / THREATS / STATUS:
Little Egret is not globally threatened at this moment.
As other egret species, it was persecuted for feather’s trade in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Feathers were used for ornaments in women hats, and the birds were killed while they fed their young which, abandoned, dead in large numbers.
Today, this species, as other Ardeidae, is threatened by habitat loss and changes in the wetlands, pollution and competition for nesting trees.
However, Little Egret has recovered good numbers and expanded range thanks to protection of habitat and birds.
Fr: Aigrette garzette
All : Seidenreiher
Esp : Garceta Común
Ital: Garzetta comune
Nd: Kleine Zilverreiger
Russe: Малая белая цапля
Photos et texte de Nicole Bouglouan
HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105
THE HANDBOOK OF BIRD IDENTIFICATION FOR EUROPE AND THE WESTERN PALEARCTIC by Mark Beaman, Steve Madge - C.Helm - ISBN: 0713639601