Egretta garzetta (Linnaeus, 1766)
Family: Pelecaniformes > Ardeidae
With its yellow feet, which are used to flush prey when feeding in shallow water, the Little Egret is a distinctive member of the heron family.
Little Egrets first bred in Britain in 1996 and since then have successfully colonised much of southern Britain and Ireland. Most of the breeding colonies have been established within existing Grey Heron colonies, the two species nesting alongside one another.
The winter distribution is also currently restricted to the southern half of Britain & Ireland, despite the fact that young birds are known to move some distance from their natal site.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Little Egret
Little Egret identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Little Egret.
A white heron in the UK is likely to be a Little or Great White Egret. Occasionally Cattle Egrets turn up, and some even stay to breed. How can you pick one of these wanderers out?
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Little Egret, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses
Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.Browse training courses
Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Until the 1980s the Little Egret was a very scarce migrant to Britain, especially as an overshoot on spring passage. Since then, its status has utterly changed. Following a rapid build-up of wintering birds, the first breeding pair ever in the UK was found in Dorset in 1996 (Lock & Cook 1998, Musgrove 2002). By 2001 the number of breeding pairs had passed 100 and in 2015 it passed 1,000 pairs for the first time (Holling & RBBP 2017). Most of these birds remain over winter and are joined by additional birds from the Continent. The primary source of trend data is the nest counts collated by RBBP, many of which have been submitted via the BTO Heronries Census. This trend is matched by the BBS trend and also by the trend in winter numbers which rose rapidly until 2008/09 then fell slightly before starting another rise (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020). There has been an increase across Europe since 2000 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>)
Though previously amber listed through its concentration at a few key breeding sites, the species was moved to the UK green list in 2015 (Eaton et al. 2015).
|UK breeding population||+2380% increase (1995–2020)|
|UK winter population||+1214% increase (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
Since first breeding in the UK in 1996
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||343|
|% occupied in breeding season||11|
|No. occupied in winter||1201|
|% occupied in winter||40|
European Distribution Map
Distribution change for Little Egret is exclusively a picture of gains, as in previous atlases the species was essentially a rare vagrant.
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+116100%|
Little Egret is a year-round resident, recorded on up to 10% of lists.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Little Egret, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|Number of Broods||1|
|Egg Size||46×34 mm Weight = 28 g (of which 7% is shell)|
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||13 years 6 months 12 days (set in 2019)|
|Typical Lifespan||5 years with breeding typically at 2 year|
|Juvenile Survival||0.32 (in first year)|
|Field Codes||2-letter: ET | 5-letter code: LITEG | Euring: 1190|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Little Egret from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
There is little good evidence available regarding the drivers of the breeding population increase in this species in the UK.
Further information on causes of change
There is little good evidence available regarding the drivers of the breeding population increase in this species in the UK. However, the initial rapid increases following colonisation may have been aided by lack of intraspecific competition and the ability of this species to exploit a previously unoccupied habitat.
It is also possible that climate change has aided the colonisation of this species by increasing the probability that birds survive over winter. It is notable that the BBS index met a temporary small setback between 2007 and 2012, which was probably the result of unusually cold winter weather, to which the species is susceptible (Holt 2012).
Information about conservation actions
This recent colonist is currently increasing its abundance and range in the UK, and hence no specific conservation actions are currently required. Actions to maintain and create wetland habitats are also likely to benefit this species. Little Egrets often nest in heronries alongside Grey Herons (and sometimes other species); hence actions to ensure that key sites are protected and to prevent disturbance may therefore also be helpful.
Would you like to search for another species?