Thirty years ago, you would have been very lucky to have spotted a little egret in the UK. Once a very rare visitor from the continent, the little egret is now a common sight around the coastline of southern England and Wales. It first appeared in the UK in the late 1980s, and first bred in Dorset in 1996 and Wales in 2002.
This small white heron has elegant white plumage and a long neck, a black dagger-like beak, long dark green-black legs, and yellow feet. At rest, the little egret hunches and can look small and rather miserable. When flying, their head and long neck retract, and the legs and feet extend beyond the tail.
In breeding season, the little egret develops a long drooping head crest and long trailing wing plumes. Their magnificent feathers were once more valuable than gold and were smuggled into Europe in the 19th Century to be used in the hat trade.
What they eat
The little egret feeds on small fish and crustaceans, but will also take amphibians and large insects. They can often be seen paddling enthusiastically in the mud to disturb their prey.
Where and when to see them
They are mainly found on estuaries and coastal waterways, and occasionally on inland wetlands.
They can be seen all year round, although numbers increase in autumn and winter as birds arrive from the continent.
Don’t forget to look up! Little egrets usually breed and roost colonially in bushes and trees near water.
Listen out for their harsh alarm calls if disturbed at their roost sites.