No Egrets? Actually we have three!

Edith Piaf may not have sung “I have no egrets”, but the word “Egret” is derived from the French “aigrette”, meaning “plume”, for this is one of the things that differentiates these graceful, white birds from their cousins the “herons”. There are three egrets that frequent the Wilson Inlet; the Great Egret, the Little Egret and the Eastern Reef Egret. All grow decorative breeding plumes on their heads, backs or on their breasts.

The Little and Great Egrets also have a patch of bare, yellow skin between the eye and the bill, this changes colour for a few weeks during the breeding season in what is known as a “flush”. In the case of the Little Egret, the patch turns a bright pink and in the Great Egret it turns a lime green. The Little Egret has a black bill whilst the Great Egret’s bill is yellow, but turns black when in breeding plumage.

The Great Egret, as its name suggests is the largest of the three, standing about one-metre tall, although with its long neck that can be tucked on to its breast, it can appear smaller.

It hunts for fish (largely) and invertebrates in shallow water, generally stalking them slowly with its head tucked-in, its eyes are downward facing, and when it spots its prey it will extend its neck slowly and then suddenly straightens it in a swift movement, often propelling its head underwater to catch its victim.

The smaller Little Egret is a much more active hunter of fish and dashes to and fro in pursuit of its prey. The Eastern Reef Egret is generally blue-grey, but also has a white phase, which is more common in the north of Australia. It may be confused with an immature White-faced Heron, but is a slightly stockier build and has no white at all on its head. All three can be seen around the Prawn Rock Channel, the Great Egret is often seen around Poddyshot or the mouth of the Denmark River. Little Egrets are also seen in the shallow waters around the mouth of the Hay River.

“Car ma vie, car mes joies; Aujourd’hui… ça commence avec toi!”

Great Egret
Great Egret (downward facing eyes)
Little Egret
Eastern Reef Egret