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Little Egret
Egretta garzetta

Bangau Kecil (Malay)

The Little Egret is the smallest and most common egret in Singapore. Singapore receives a good concentration of these migrants during the winter (September-May).

In February, just before they leave for their summer breeding sites, some may start to put on their beautiful breeding plumes (right).

at water's edge showing yellow feetLittle Egrets eat a wide variety of prey from fish, molluscs and worms to insects and even small mammals and birds.

Little Egrets are the liveliest hunters among herons and egrets, with a wide variety of techniques. They may patiently stalk prey in shallow waters. Or stand on one leg and stir the mud with the other to scare up prey. Or better yet, stand on one leg and wave the other bright yellow foot over the water surface to lure aquatic prey into range.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (55-65cm), pure white; bill black; legs black; toes yellow (black in Sumatran race nigripes). Genders look alike.

Adult: Summer/ breeding: Long breeding plumes: two droop at nape, a few lacy ones on the back and rump; face bluish-green, lores reddish.

(Little Egrets from different parts of the world have different colour changes. This description is for those found in Singapore).
adult showing yellow feet
breeding little egret at the nest
Raising its breeding plumage in aggression
to defend chicks

Photo from
James Hancock
Juvenile: Year-old birds have bills greenish with black markings; lores pale green; legs dull black with green.

Call: Usually silent. Described as a croaking call, at its nest.

Status in Singapore: Very common non-breeding winter visitor throughout the island, including North offshore islands. The race nigripes from Java is a rare visitor.

World distribution: Old World including Australia and New Zealand.

Classification: Family Ardeidae. World 65 species, Singapore 17 species. There are many races, and some have dark coloured varieties.
In peninsular Malaysia, some have been observed hunting near floating vegetation (like palm fronds), possibly looking for prey attracted to the shade. They may crouch with their wings slightly outstretched, either to reduce the sun's glare or perhaps to create shade to attract underwater prey. They may also enthusiastically rush around in shallow waters perhaps to flush out prey. Little Egrets usually hunt alone. Where they hunt in a group, they are well spaced out, each individual aggressively defending a feeding spot. However, they roost communally, often with other herons and egrets, usually in mangroves. They also roost in reedbeds or snags over open water.

on mudflat showing partial breeding plumesBreeding: Little Egrets breed in the warm-temperate areas of the Old World, as well as tropical areas like Java, Bali and Kalimantan. But they are not known to breed in Singapore. They build rough nests out of sticks. A wide variety of nesting sites are used, from trees and bushes to rocks, walls and even on the ground. Up to 5 greenish-blue eggs are laid.

Migration: Little Egrets spend winter in Southeast Asia, migrating in large dispersal flocks, arriving mainly in September-October. Their preferred wintering grounds are mangroves where there are mudflats suited to their hunting style and providing preferred roosting sites. In Singapore, they are mostly found in estuaries, mudflats, ponds, mangroves and even canals. Some may stay in their wintering grounds over the summer.

Status and threats: Like other egrets with beautiful breeding plumes, Little Egrets were threatened by hunting for their feathers (for more, see our page on the family Ardeidae). Now, they are more threatened by habitat destruction and pollution. The overuse of pesticides have made them scarce in rice fields.

  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 52: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p. 6-7: habits, habitat, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 86-88: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 82: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species)
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 17: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 111: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 46: habit, habitat).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 52: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • James Hancock, "Herons and Egrets of the World: A photographic journey", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 108-127: identification, distribution, status, feeding, breeding, and photos of all life stages and of the dark coloured morphs)
  • David Attenborough, "The Life of Birds", Princeton University Press, 1998 (p. 124: hunting by luring with yellow feet).
By Ria Tan, 2001