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Overview

Brief Summary

Little egrets like to hunt under water. They creep along the edge of the water and suddenly attack small animals hiding in the mud by shuffling their legs. Some people say that the egrets lure the small fish by wiggling their very yellow toes. Little egrets used to be a rarity in the Netherlands. There were many in the 17th century but were exterminated or fled from the cold during the lesser glacial period. It took till 1999 for the first nest to succeed in the Netherlands. The birds probably profit now from climate change. These southern birds feel very much at home thanks to the warmer weather.
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Comprehensive Description

Miscellaneous Details

"Some years ago Little Egrets used to be extensively and lucratively farmed by the mohanas or local fishermen on many of the dhands or jheels in Sind, for the sake of their elegant ornamental breeding plumes. These were collected in a humane manner, without injury to the birds. Each bird seldom yielded less than a tola during the year. They fetched from Ks. 10 to Rs.15 per tola locally, and as much as £15 per oz. smuggled into Europe. With the change in women's fashions, egret feathers no longer carry the same demand, and prices have also dwindled accordingly. But some small farms exist even to this day. The species that chiefly supplied these ' aigrette ' feathers of commerce were : The Little Egret, the slightly larger Smaller Egret and the solitary Large Egret (Egretta alba) . The last is a solitary bird about the size of the Grey Heron, of pure white plumage and with black legs and bill."""" Salim Ali in """"The book of Indian birds."""" Bombay, The Bombay Natural History Society (1941)."
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Summary

A small white heron with black blill and legs with a distinctive yellow feet.
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The Little Egret is a small white egret with dark grey-black legs, black bill and a bright yellow naked face. In the breeding season the plumage includes two ribbon-like head plumes, and abundant plumes on the back and breast.

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Distribution

North America; Oceania
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Range Description

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 1,000,000-10,000,000 km2. It has a large global population estimated to be 640,000-3,100,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002).
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Subspecies and Distribution:


    *garzetta (Linnaeus, 1766) - Palearctic, from France, Spain and NW Africa E to Korea and Japan; scattered in rest of Africa, Middle East, India and SE Asia. *nigripes (Temminck, 1840) - islands of SE Asia and SW Pacific. *immaculata (Gould, 1846) - N & E Australia and regular in New Zealand. *gularis (Bosc, 1792) - coastal W Africa, from Mauritania to Gabon *schistacea (Ehrenberg, 1828) - coastal E Africa to Red Sea, Persian Gulf, W, S & SE India. *dimorpha Hartert, 1914 - Madagascar and outlying islands; also occurs on coast of E Africa, where has been recorded from S Kenya to N Mozambique.


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Physical Description

Morphology

"A lanky snow-white egret, differentiated at all seasons from the very similar Cattle Egret by its black not yellow bill. In the breeding season it develops a long drooping crest of two narrow plumes, and decomposed dainty ornamental feathers or 'aigrettes' on its breast and back. Sexes alike."
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Size

"About that of a village hen, but with longer neck and legs."
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56-65 cm, 350 g

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Diagnostic Description

Description

Length: 55-65 cm Plumage: white. Dark morph varies from bluish grey to black. Long plumes on head neck and back when breeding. Immature like non-breeding adult. Bare parts: iris yellow, orange in breeding birds; lores greyish green, orange to purplish in breeding birds; bill black with pale horn on basal half of mandible; feet and legs: legs black, orange to red in breeding birds; feet yellow. Habitat: shores of marine and inland waters. <388><393><391>
  • Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban & K. Newman (1982). The Birds of Africa, Volume I. Academic Press, London.
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SubSpecies Varieties Races

E. g. garzetta E. g. immaculata E. g. nigripes
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The Little Egret is a small white egret with dark grey-black legs, black bill and a bright yellow naked face. In the breeding season the plumage includes two ribbon-like head plumes, and abundant plumes on the back and breast.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour All populations of this species undergo post-breeding dispersive movements (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Populations breeding in the Palearctic are highly migratory (Hancock and Kushlan 1984) whereas others are only sedentary (such as E. g. dimorpha on Madagascar), nomadic (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or partially migratory (Hancock and Kushlan 1984). The timing of breeding varies geographically (del Hoyo et al. 1992) although, in general, European and north Asian populations breed in spring and summer (March to July) and the breeding of tropical populations coincides with periods of high rainfall (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). The species usually nests in colonies sometimes of thousands of pairs and often with other species (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Some populations also breed solitarily or in small single-species groups of under 100 pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992). When not breeding the species commonly feeds solitarily or in loose flocks during the day (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Habitat It inhabits fresh, brackish or saline wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and shows a preference for shallow waters (10-15 cm deep) in open, unvegetated sites where water levels and dissolved oxygen levels fluctuate daily, tidally or seasonally, and where fish are concentrated in pools or at the water's surface (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Habitats frequented include the margins of shallow lakes, rivers, streams and pools, open swamps and marshes, flooded meadows, rafts of floating water hyacinth Eichornia spp. on African lakes (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), flood-plains (del Hoyo et al. 1992), lagoons, irrigation canals, aquaculture ponds (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), saltpans (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and rice fields (which are especially important in areas with few remaining natural wetland habitats) (Hancock and Kushlan 1984, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). The species also occupies dry fields, inland savannas and cattle pastures (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and some populations are almost entirely coastal, inhabiting rocky or sandy shores, reefs, estuaries, mudflats, saltmarshes, mangroves and tidal creeks (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Diet It is a highly opportunistic feeder (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), taking mainly small fish under 20 g in weight and less than 10 cm long (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (averaging 4 cm) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), aquatic and terrestrial insects (e.g. beetles, dragonfly larvae, mole crickets and crickets) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and crustaceans (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. Palaemonetes spp., amphipods, phylopods, crabs and exotic species of crayfish) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) as well as amphibians, molluscs (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (snails and bivalves) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), spiders, worms, reptiles and small birds (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding site The species may nest on the ground in protected sites (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) or up to 20 m high on rocks, in reedbeds, bushes, trees or mangroves (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It usually nests in single- or mixed-species colonies where nests may be placed 1-4 m apart (sometimes less than 1 m apart) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). It may feed up to 7-13 km away from breeding colonies during the breeding season (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Management information An artificial island nesting site created in the Camargue, France succeeded in attracting nesting pairs to the area (Hafner 2000). A study in north-west Italy suggests that existing nesting sites should be protected and that breeding habitats should be actively managed in order to maintain suitable habitat characteristics (Fasola and Alieri 1992). The creation of a network of new nesting sites spaced at 4-10 km in relation to available foraging habitats in zones currently without suitable nesting sites is also recommended (Fasola and Alieri 1992).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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General Habitat

"Parties seen, by jheels and rivers."
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Frequents tidal mudflats, saltwater and freshwater wetlands, and mangroves. FOOD: Feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates, as well as fish and amphibians. The Little Egret hunts in shallow water by shuffling a foot to stir up aquatic prey, which it then takes in a lightning-fast movement. It also chases small fish with its wings raised.

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Trophic Strategy

Feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates, as well as fish and amphibians. The Little Egret hunts in shallow water by shuffling a foot to stir up aquatic prey, which it then takes in a lightning-fast movement. It also chases small fish with its wings raised.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

"The Little Egret frequents fresh water jheels, tanks, ponds and rivers but to a lesser extent it is also found by tidal creeks. It is a sociable bird usually met with in small parties or larger flocks, and commonly in association with the very similar but slightly larger Egretta intermedia—the Smaller Egret. They wade in shallow water or stalk about on the soft mud and grassland around the margins in search of food which consists mainly of insects, frogs and small reptiles. The birds roost at night in trees."
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Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 22.3 years (wild)
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Reproduction

"The season in N. India is principally July and August ; in the south November to February. The Little Egret breeds in heronries in the mixed company of Paddy Birds, cormorants and other marsh birds. The nests are shallow twig cups of the crow type, scantily lined with straw, leaves, etc. They are built in trees, usually but not always, standing in or near water, and often in the very midst of towns or villages. The same site and nests, repaired if necessary, are used year after year. The eggs-usually 4 -are moderately broad ovals in shape and pale bluish -green in colour.."
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Egretta garzetta

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 3 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGCCGGTATAATTGGAACCGCCCTCAGTCTCCTTATCCGAGCTGAACTTGGCCAGCCAGGAACGCTCCTAGGAGACGACCAGATCTATAATGTGATTGTCACCGCTCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTCATACCAATCATAATTGGGGGATTCGGAAACTGACTAGTACCCCTCATAATTGGTGCCCCTGATATAGCATTTCCACGCATAAACAACATAAGTTTCTGACTCCTTCCACCATCATTTATACTCCTACTAGCCTCATCCACAGTCGAAGCAGGAGCAGGTACGGGCTGAACAGTCTACCCACCCTTAGCTGGCAACCTAGCCCATGCCGGAGCCTCAGTTGACCTAGCCATCTTCTCCCTCCACTTAGCAGGGGTGTCTTCCATCCTAGGAGCAATCAACTTCATTACAACTGCCATCAACATAAAACCCCCAACCCTATCACAATACCAAACTCCCCTATTTGTATGATCCGTCCTAATTACCGCCGTTCTACTTCTACTTTCACTCCCAGTTCTCGCTGCGGGTATTACAATACTACTAACTGATCGAAACCTAAACACCACATTCTTTGACCCTGCTGGGGGTGGCGACCCAGTCCTCTATCAACACCTATTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCAGANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Egretta garzetta

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
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Status in Egypt

Resident breeder, regular passage visitor and winter visitor.

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Not Threatened.

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Population

Population
Totals for E. g. garzetta and E. g. dimorpha from Wetlands International (2006) added together.

Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The species is threatened by wetland degradation and loss through drainage for agriculture (e.g. rice-farming and fishing), changes in current management practices (e.g. of rice-farming) and contamination from agricultural and industrial operations (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). The species is also susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Ellis et al. 2004, Melville and Shortridge 2006), and it previously suffered from hunting for the plume trade (although this is no longer a threat) (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Nesting colonies of E. g. dimorpha are depredated by villagers in Madagascar (Langrand 1990).
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Habitat (wetland) degradation and destruction.
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Wikipedia

Little egret

The little egret (Egretta garzetta) is a small white heron. It is the Old World counterpart to the very similar New World snowy egret. In Botswana, it is known as the yellow-footed egret.

Subspecies[edit]

Depending on authority, two or three subspecies of little egret are currently accepted.[2]

Three other egret taxa have at times been classified as subspecies of the little egret in the past but are now regarded as two separate species. These are the western reef heron Egretta gularis which occurs on the coastline of West Africa (Egretta gularis gularis) and from the Red Sea to India (Egretta gularis schistacea), and the dimorphic egret Egretta dimorpha, found in East Africa, Madagascar, the Comoros and the Aldabra Islands.[3]

Description[edit]

Little Egret on the fly at Pichavaram Mangrove forest
In non-breeding plumage, stalking
In flight in the Laguna di Venezia, Italy
On rocks in Oman

The adult little egret is 55–65 cm long with an 88–106 cm wingspan, and weighs 350–550 grams. Its plumage is all white. The subspecies garzetta has long black legs with yellow feet and a slim black bill. In the breeding season, the adult has two long nape plumes and gauzy plumes on the back and breast, and the bare skin between the bill and eyes becomes red or blue. Juveniles are similar to non-breeding adults but have greenish-black legs and duller yellow feet. Has yellow feet and a bare patch of grey-green skin between the bill and eyes.[clarification needed] The subspecies nigripes differs in having yellow skin between the bill and eye, and blackish feet.

Little egrets are mostly silent but make various croaking and bubbling calls at their breeding colonies and produce a harsh alarm call when disturbed.

Little egret flying with neck retracted, India

Distribution and conservation[edit]

E. g. nigripes in breeding plumage, Taipei
Adult, non-breeding, E. g. immaculata, Western Australia, Australia

Its breeding distribution is in wetlands in warm temperate to tropical parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. In warmer locations, most birds are permanent residents; northern populations, including many European birds, migrate to Africa and southern Asia. They may also wander north in late summer after the breeding season, which may have assisted its current range expansion. Globally, the little egret is not listed as a threatened species.[3]

Status in northwestern Europe[edit]

Historical research has shown that the little egret was once present, and probably common, in Great Britain, but became extinct there through a combination of over-hunting in the late mediaeval period and climate change at the start of the Little Ice Age. The inclusion of 1,000 egrets (among numerous other birds) in the banquet to celebrate the enthronement of George Neville as Archbishop of York at Cawood Castle in 1465 indicates the presence of a sizable population in northern England at the time, and they are also listed in the coronation feast of King Henry VI in 1429.[4][5] They had disappeared by the mid-16th century, when William Gowreley, "yeoman purveyor to the Kinges mowthe", "had to send further south" for egrets.[5]

Further declines occurred throughout Europe as the plumes of the little egret and other egrets were in demand for decorating hats. They had been used for this purpose since at least the 17th century but in the 19th century it became a major craze and the number of egret skins passing through dealers reached into the millions. Egret farms were set up where the birds could be plucked without being killed but most of the supply was obtained by hunting, which reduced the population of the species to dangerously low levels and stimulated the establishment of Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889.

By the 1950s, the little egret had become restricted to southern Europe, and conservation laws protecting the species were introduced. This allowed the population to rebound strongly; over the next few decades it became increasingly common in western France and later on the north coast. It bred in the Netherlands in 1979 with further breeding from the 1990s onward.

In Britain it was a rare vagrant from its 16th-century disappearance until the late 20th century, and did not breed. It has however recently become a regular breeding species and is commonly present, often in large numbers, at favoured coastal sites. The first recent breeding record in England was on Brownsea Island in Dorset in 1996, and the species bred in Wales for the first time in 2002.[6] The population increase has been rapid subsequently, with over 750 pairs breeding in nearly 70 colonies in 2008,[7] and a post-breeding total of 4,540 birds in September 2008.[8] In Ireland the species bred for the first time in 1997 at a site in County Cork and the population has also expanded rapidly since, breeding in most Irish counties by 2010.

Status in Australia[edit]

In Australia, its status varies from state to state. It is listed as "Threatened" on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.[9] Under this act, an Action Statement for the recovery and future management of this species has been prepared.[10] On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, the little egret is listed as endangered.[11]

Colonisation of the New World[edit]

The little egret has now started to colonise the New World. The first record there was on Barbados in April 1954. It began breeding on the island in 1994. Birds are seen with increasing regularity and have occurred from Suriname and Brazil in the south to Newfoundland and Quebec in the north. Birds on the east coast of North America are thought to have moved north with snowy egrets from the Caribbean. In June 2011, a little egret was spotted in Maine, in the Scarborough Marsh, near the Audubon Center. [12]

Reproduction[edit]

A little egret egg from Bosnia

The little egret nests in colonies, often with other wading birds, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs or in a reed bed or bamboo grove. In some locations such as the Cape Verde Islands, they nest on cliffs. Pairs defend a small breeding territory, usually extending around 3–4 m from the nest. The three to five eggs are incubated by both adults for 21–25 days to hatching. They are oval in shape and have a pale, non-glossy, blue-green colour. The young birds are covered in white down feathers, are cared for by both parents and fledge after 40 to 45 days.

Feeding[edit]

E. g. garzetta in breeding plumage actively catching prey in Kolkata
Little egret, at Chandigarh, India

Little egrets eat fish, insects, amphibians, crustaceans, and reptiles. They stalk their prey in shallow water, often running with raised wings or shuffling their feet to disturb small fish. They may also stand still and wait to ambush prey.

Little egret - Fogg Dam, Middle Point, Northern Territory, Australia

References[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Egretta garzetta". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Avibase Little Egret Egretta garzetta
  3. ^ a b Hoyo, J. del, et al., eds. (1992). Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. p. 412. ISBN 84-87334-10-5. 
  4. ^ Stubbs, F. J. (1910). The Egret in Britain. Zoologist 14 (4): 310–311.
  5. ^ a b Bourne, W. R. P. (2003). Fred Stubbs, Egrets, Brewes and climatic change. British Birds 96: 332–339.
  6. ^ Royal Society for the Protection of Birds UK RSPB information on the Little Egret spread into Britain. Accessed January 2008.
  7. ^ Holling, M. et al. (2010). Rare breeding birds in the United Kingdom in 2008. British Birds 103: 482–538.
  8. ^ Calbrade, N. et al. (2010). Waterbirds in the UK 2008/09. The Wetland Bird Survey. ISBN 978-1-906204-33-4.
  9. ^ Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria
  10. ^ Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria
  11. ^ Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (2007). Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria - 2007. East Melbourne, Victoria: Department of Sustainability and Environment. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-74208-039-0. 
  12. ^ Rare Bird Flies Into Scarborough, WMTW.com, 30 June 2011
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