Egretta garzetta - The Little Egret

The little egret is a small white heron with long, black legs and a slim bill that is also black. In the breeding season, the adult has two long nape plumes and a red marking between the bill and the eyes. Just under the lower jaw and around the eyes, there is a bare patch of green-grey skin, and the iris is a striking yellow colour.

Did you know? In the breeding season, the adult has two long nape plumes and red between the bill and eyes.

The little egret is usually seen alone or in small, loosely-congregated groups. Unlike most of the larger herons and other white egrets, the little egret usually hunts actively; darting, twisting and dashing about in pursuit of its prey.

Did you know? In the western race of the little egret, the feet are yellow.

Size

Length: 55 to 56 cm.
Wingspan: 88 to 106 cm.

Habitat

The little egret is common on the shoreline of any body of water; including oceans, estuaries, rivers, ponds, canals, and lagoons. It loves the mudflats, swamps, reefs and sandy beaches of the coastline, but is often found moving amongst cattle and other hoofed animals too.

Distribution

They are common in South Africa and can be found at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve between Pretoria and Johannesburg, the West Coast National Park (about an hour north of Cape Town), and on Thesen Island in Knysna, along the Garden Route.

Diet

The little egret enjoys feeding on fish, crustaceans, spiders, worms, and other insects. They are keen opportunists, and will wait for humans to attract little fish by throwing bread into the water or will wait on other marine birds to cause fish and crustaceans to come to the surface. As cattle move and disturb the insects in the grass, the little egret is ready to snatch them up.

Socialisation

The little egret is usually seen alone or in small, loose groups, but are still rather sociable birds in that they often hang around humans and other predators to take advantage of the prey that is made more available by these.

Unlike larger herons and other white egrets that favour the waterside, the little egret is an active hunter.
Still, little egrets may also hunt in typical heron fashion by standing absolutely still and waiting for prey to approach within striking distance.

Reproduction

The little egret nests in colonies that they often share with other wading birds like herons and ibises. They will usually perch their nests on sticks in trees or shrubs.

They lay between three and five eggs, which are incubated by both parents until they hatch. The little chicks are cared for by their parents until they fledge, which happens when they are between 40 and 45 days old.

Incubation

Incubation lasts for 21 to 25 days.

Life Expectancy

About 5 to 9 years.

Predators

Nestlings may be prey to hawks, owls and crows.

References

BBC Nature and Biodiversity Explorer.

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Conservation Status
Little Egret
Least
concern
Kruger Park's Big 6 Birds

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