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Egretta garzetta (Little egret) 

Kleinwitreier [Afrikaans]; iNgekle (also applied to Yellow-billed egret) [Zulu]; Samunkoma (also applied to other long-neck egrets and herons) [Kwangali]; Leholosiane (generic term for egret) [South Sotho]; Kleine zilverreiger [Dutch]; Aigrette garzette [French]; Seidenreiher [German]; Garça-branca-pequena [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Ardeidae

Egretta garzetta (Little egret) 

Little egret, Intaka Island Wetland Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Egretta garzetta (Little egret)  Egretta garzetta (Little egret) 
Little egret. [photo Johan van Rensburg ©] Little egret, Velddrif, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occupies much of sub-Saharan Africa, largely excluding the equatorial lowland forest of the DRC and west Africa. In southern Africa, it is uncommon to locally common in central and southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, northern and eastern Botswana, patches of Namibia and much of South Africa, largely excluding the arid Northern Cape. It generally prefers the shallow margins of rivers, lakes, estuaries, pans, marshes and saltpans, but it also moves into mangroves, open coastal flats and man-made habitats such as sewage works, canals and dams.

Distribution of Little egret in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

  • Parasites
    • Sarcocystis
    • Theromyzon cooperi (African duck leech)
    • botulism

Movements and migrations

Generally resident in perennial water bodies, but it may make nomadic movements in search of ephemeral wetlands.


It mainly eats fish, doing most of its foraging by wading or running through the water, stabbing at prey. It also uses a technique in which it hovers above the water surface then dives down to catch its prey. Foraging techniques sometimes exploit the movements of other animals, such as Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), cormorants or African spoonbills, as it catches the prey they disturb. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • fish
    • amphibians
    • reptiles
    • small birds
    • small mammals
  • Invertebrates
    • crustaceans
    • insects
    • worms
    • crustaceans
    • molluscs


  • Monogamous colonial nester, breeding in groups of roughly 2-120 nests, interspersed with those of other water birds in a large, mixed-species colony.
  • The nest is built by the female with material provided by the male, consisting of a platform of sticks and reeds, typically placed in a tree or bush above water or a reedbed, although it is rarely positioned on cliffs or rocks.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-March.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for roughly 21-25 days.
  • The chicks are brooded and fed by both parents, leaving the nest at approximately a month old and fledging 10-20 days later.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.