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Could I have seen a little egret just off the A4?

Sent in by Robin Lane, Devizes

 

What you saw was most likely a little egret. These are medium sized herons, about 60 cm tall, with pure white feathers, a long black bill and black legs.

 

One of their most distinctive features is their bright yellow toes and when they are breeding they develop two long feather plumes on their neck. The Society for the Protection of Birds (which later became the RSPB) was actually formed to protest against the use of bird feathers, including these egret plumes, in ladies' hats.

 

There is now an established population of little egrets in the UK after colonising in 1989, with approximately 70 breeding pairs annually. These probably dispersed to Britain from colonies in France and first bred in 1996 on Brownsea Island, Dorset. This population has steadily increased and swells even further in the autumn and winter when birds from the continent arrive.

 

Little egrets are usually found in coastal habitats but have increasingly begun to move inland to shallow lakes, wetlands and even flooded fields. They feed on fish, amphibians and insects.

 

Little egrets can be found most commonly along the south and east coast of Britain, from Norfolk round the Welsh coast to the Dee estuary but have been sighted in many inland counties as far north as Dumfries and Galloway.

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