The Little Egret is a small successful heron, distributed in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
It prefers wetland habitats in warm, temperate and tropical zones, including lake shores, rivers, canals, ponds, lagoons, marshes, mangroves, swamps, mudflats, sandy beaches, reefs and flooded land such as rice fields.
It is a resident breeding species in the warmer parts of it’s range, but northern populations including most of the European populations migrate south to Africa and southern Asia for the winter. In late summer, following the breeding season, they often wander northward and this tendency to disperse must have assisted in the bird’s recent expansion of it’s range.
This is a drastic change in the status of the species. ln the 19th century it was heavily persecuted to provide the fashion industry, with it’s decorative plumes, especially for women’s hats. It became locally extinct in northwestern Europe and scarce in the south. The turn around started around 1950, when conservation laws were introduced in southern Europe to protect the species and their numbers began to increase. Its range is continuing to expand westward, and the species has begun to colonise, even the New World.
Their diet consists mainly of fish, but will also feed on amphibians, crustaceans, molluscs, insects, arachnids and worms. They will even feed on small reptiles, mammals and birds. They have various hunting techniques, including stalking prey or shuffling their feet to disturb fish. They can be very opportunistic too, by snatching prey escaping away from other birds.
There are two subspecies, the nominate race and Egretta garzetta nigripes, found in the Sunda Islands, Australia and New Zealand.
In the Maltese Islands it is a common migrant both in spring and autumn. It started breeding in 2007 and since then it’s numbers have increased and now can be seen all year round.