Monday, November 28, 2011

Invasion of the Egret!

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta
Its easy to see the attraction to the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta). Its snowy-white plumage contrasts beautifully with its black, dagger-like bill. Unfortunately the attraction proved to be the undoing of E. garzetta populations in Britain and Ireland. In the breeding season the adult grows two long nape feathers (1). E. garzetta was hunted to extinction in much of norther Europe for these feathers which were used in the production of hats (2). This example of fashion gone crazy resulted in the death of millions of Little Egrets up to the start of the 20th century when a combination of changing fashion tastes and a growing awareness in conservation reduced the hunting of the bird (3).
E. garzetta became an occasional winter visitor in Ireland after this time and up until late 1980's and early 1990s. Large numbers of autumn migrants in 1995-6 lead to a wintering population of about 60 birds. Finally in 1997 a breeding site of 12 birds was established on the River Blackwater on the border between counties Cork and Waterford (4). Breeding sites have increase since then and now Cork has four further established (at Ballannan Wood, Fota Island, Rostellan and the Atlantic Pond) and one possibly established (Carrigaline) sites (5). In these sites, the birds nest in close porximity to the Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea). While the reestablishment of E. garzetta is a welcome development, the speed which with this has occurred is very interesing: from no birds to six breeding sites in just twenty years.

  1. Sterry, 2004. Collins Guide to Irish Wildlife p. 36
  2. Stubbs, 1910. Zoologist 14 pp. 310-311
  3. Bourne, 2003. British Birds 96 pp. 332-339
  4. Smiddy and Duffy, 1997. Irish Birds 6 pp. 55-56
  5. O'Donoghue and Smiddy, 2008. In Practice p. 14

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