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Little egret

Egretta garzetta

What am I?

A small white heron, pronounced ‘eee-grit’, with beautiful white plumes on its crest, back and chest, a black bill and black legs with strikingly yellow feet. 

The smallest of our herons with black beak and legs with yellow feet, the little egret is now a regular sight on the Essex coast.

Using their feet they flush out prey, including fish, amphibians, worms and crustaceans, in shallow waters and then spear them with its long, pointy beak. Egrets nest together with grey herons in so called heronries, usually in tall trees around water bodies.

How to spot them

One of the easiest birds to identify on the Essex coast without binoculars, with their dazzling white plumage and long legs. They are most often seen standing still or walking slowly around on mud flats feeding. Little egrets size, black beak and distinctive tuft at the back of the head sets it apart from the great white and the cattle egret, its rarer cousins. They often utter a harsh, guttural sound when disturbed, which makes a stark contrast to their elegant, ephemeral appearance.  

Where to see them

Fairly common on migration at wetlands throughout the country. Winters on estuaries around the coast.  Little egrets are now a regular presence on mud flats along estuaries and salt marshes in southern England. Like herons, but much less camouflaged, they often stand in reeds by rivers, ponds and ditches.  

Conservation status

Little egret are green listed in the UK  but while they might not be listed in our Special Protection Areas they are important for the coastal ecosystem and form part of the waterbird assemblages for which the Essex coast are protected.

Did you know:

Little egrets played a vital role in the founding of the RSPB: During the 19th century, little egrets were extensively hunted for their long neck plumes which were used as exotic feathers in women’s hats. This led to local extinctions throughout north western Europe. In 1889, Emily Williamson created the Society for the Protection of Birds with the aim of campaigning for change. Her efforts helped bring about the 1921 Plumage (Prohibition) Act and the creation of the RSPB.