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Meet the species: Little Egrets

The little egret is a noticeably silent bird that croaks and groans only during the breeding season, unless it is startled; then it will produce a harsh alarm call before fleeing farther along the stretch of water it inhabits.

A truly European bird, this small species of heron hails from the genus Egretta, which comes from the French Provençal dialect. Its Latin name is taken from the Italian, common name for these snow-white waders.

Often found wading during the low tide. Little egrets have thin, long legs that end with wide, bright yellow feet which prevent them from sinking into the soft-silted bottoms of many estuaries. Another purpose of these characteristic yellow feet is seen in the way in which little egrets hunt.

Slow, deliberate steps, with regular stops, allow the egret to survey the waterways without disturbing potential prey.

During these stops, little egrets often extend one leg forward. Vigorously stirring up the muddy bottom of the water in which they are hunting. In the process, their bright yellow feet confuse any prey, ranging from small fish to amphibians or invertebrates. Once the prey is dazzled and flushed, the little egret strikes.

Their population used to be confined to the continent; as little as twenty-five years ago, the little egret was almost never seen in the UK. However, populations have been on the increase and little egrets can now be found in estuaries across the British Isles.

Alexander S. Howson

Alexander S. Howson is a naturalist and nature writer.

Along with a heavy interest in Aquatics, birds and ecology. Alexander now directs a large deal of energy attempting to re-educate the public about aquatics and promoting the conservation of a range of wildlife species.

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