Wednesday, 9th May 2012
The Little Egret
The Little Egret is a snow-white heron that was recorded in Waterford twelve times up to 1984. It was first recorded in Ireland in 1940. None was recorded again until 1956 and a small but regular spattering of occurrences of single birds was recorded up to 1970 when a different pattern of rare occurrences was noticed as small groups of birds were now noticed for the first time. These occurrences were still remarkable enough to be published in the annual Irish Bird Report and entries such as birds at Dungarvan in April 1970 and three together at Fornaght Strand in Waterford Harbour in May of the same year are to be found. What was also remarkable was the fact that a total of 19 birds were seen in Ireland that year – the highest number ever recorded here and also, the fact that these mostly occurred in the Spring of the year when they should have been at their breeding locations such as the Camargue in the south of France. Numbers continued to build-up throughout the 1980s and what was once considered to be a rare bird in Ireland could now be commonly seen at places like the Blackwater Estuary, Dungarvan, Waterford Harbour and Tramore Back Strand where two were shot at in the mid 1980's! This, together with the fact that the bird was staying in suitable habitat for extended periods and could be seen at any time of year brought about speculation that it might actually breed here!
This speculation was prophetic as in April 1997, Patrick Smiddy and Brian Duffy found 12 pairs nesting with Grey Herons in tall trees in west Waterford. The site was regularly monitored and chicks were hatched from eleven of these. This is the first recorded breeding of Little Egrets in Ireland. They nested at the same site each year since then and in 2000, Little Egrets also nested at a second site in east Waterford. This exotic bird is now firmly established as a resident
The Little Egret is widely distributed in the world and is known to occur in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. It was persecuted to near-extinction in the nineteenth century for its white head-plumes and numbers only started to recover and increase when fashions with ladies hats changed during and after the Great War.
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