Ardea garzetta Linnaeus, 1766, Malalbergo, Italy. Six subspecies.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Lesser egret; French: Aigrette garzette; German: Seidenreiher; Spanish: Garceta Comъn.
A thin, medium-sized heron, with a long thin neck and bill, dark legs and yellow feet (in most forms). Length is 22–25.5 in (55–65 cm); weight is 10–22.5 oz (280–638 g). In breeding it has distinctive head, chest and back plumes, and red lores. Some populations are dimorphic, having both dark and white birds.
Occurs in Europe, Africa, Madagascar, Asia, East Indies, Australia, Pacific Ocean islands. It has recently colonized the West Indies.
Typically uses open or sparsely vegetated shallow to very shallow water for feeding. Frequently uses artificial feeding habitats, including rice fields, fish ponds, and irrigation pools. Occasionally feeds in pasture and other dry land situations, and is known to feed communally with cattle or other ungulates. Nests in trees, bushes, or islands that offer protection and isolation.
Highly social, usually seen in groups, either feeding in or at the edges of shallow water bodies, roosting at midday or on high tides, or nesting. Highly aggressive and territorial when feeding. Runs or hops between feeding sites, opening its wings to startle and chase down fish. Also uses such feeding
s as using floating bread or their bills to attract fish, following cattle, or riding bathing water buffalo. Birds roost when not feeding, and in the evening fly in small flocks to communal roosts.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Feeds in shallow, open, and unvegetated sites where water levels and dissolved oxygen are fluctuating (tidally, seasonally, or daily), where fish are concentrated in pools or at the water’s surface. Typically feeds by walking slowly with the neck stretched out through the water in search of fish or other prey, stirring the substrate with its feet. Feeds in deeper water by flying above the surface, dipping its bill into the water to catch fish, or dragging its feet at the surface to frighten them into movement. Switches habitats through the year, and feeds alone or in groups. Follows other birds closely, frequently robs them of prey, and is robbed in turn. Diet is mainly small fish, generally only 0.4–2.4 in (1–6 cm) long. Also takes small birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads and tadpoles, insects, prawns, amphipods, crayfish, crabs, and many other invertebrates.
Breeding season varies across its range, spring in temperate areas and most often at the peak or after the peak of the rainy season in the tropics. Nests colonially, sometimes in mixedspecies colonies that can number in the thousands. Coastal birds tend to nest in smaller colonies or alone. Nests are small platforms, 12–14 in (30–35 cm) wide. The eggs are variable greenish blue, fading to off-white. Clutch size varies geographically, with a range of two to eight. Incubation period is 21–25 days. Parents attend young for 10–15 days. Nestlings compete for food, and the youngest birds typically die. Young leave the nest at 35–50 days.
Not threatened. Loss of inland and coastal wetlands has occurred throughout its range.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
A well-known species because it occurs near and with human populations.
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