First British great egret nest

This is a video on a great egret and a grey heron.

From Wildlife Extra:

Great white egret nests in Britain for the first time

May 2012. Natural England have confirmed that the great white egret – a species of heron – has nested for the first time in Britain.

The nest site – at Shapwick Heath, Natural England’s National Nature Reserve in Somerset – is being monitored by staff and volunteers from Natural England, the RSPB and Somerset Ornithological Society. Activity on the site strongly suggests that the birds may already have young and in the next few weeks, Natural England hopes to be able [to] confirm that the nest contains chicks and that Britain can welcome a new species to its list of breeding birds. (Whilst Wildlife Extra is always happy to hear good news, there is often double standards used as organisations decry climate change, but welcome some of its consequences.)

Growing trend

The great white egret is more usually found in mainland Europe, but in recent years, there have been increased sightings of these elegant birds in England, a small number of which have been visiting the reedbeds and wetlands of the Avalon Marshes. Until now, none of these visitors have nested and there is growing excitement that this summer could see the beginning of a growing trend.

Female was born in France, and has been sighted in Lancashire, Wales and Gloucestershire

The female bird was ringed as a nestling in May 2009 in Besne, in France, and records show she travelled to Lancashire, Wales and Gloucestershire before visiting the Somerset Levels for the first time in April 2010. She has stayed in the region ever since and managed to cope with two relatively cold British winters.

Local birdwatchers spotted nesting activity on the Shapwick Heath Reserve in early April this year and alerted the Somerset Ornithological Society, Natural England and the RSPB. The three organisations immediately established a 24 hour nest watch operation with volunteers, who have currently clocked up over 1000 hours of nest-watching time. This ensured the birds were not disturbed whilst they completed their nest, concealed deep in the reed beds.

This species tends to return to the same nest site each year, so it is hoped that this pair will be pioneers and that a colony of great white egrets will become established on the Avalon Marshes.

Simon Clarke, Reserve Manager for Shapwick Heath said; “This is hugely exciting and we’ve been keeping everything crossed and a close eye on the nest since the signs of nesting activity were first noticed last month. In the last few years, we’ve been carrying out a lot of work to improve the reserve’s reedbeds for bitterns and otters – but it seems great white egrets have also appreciated the work we’ve done.

‘Major step forward for conservation’

Tony Whitehead speaking for the RSPB said: “This is another major step forward for nature conservation, and the RSPB is delighted to be working alongside NE and the Somerset Ornithological Society to protect these pioneering birds as they breed for the first time.

“The Avalon Marshes are a wonderful example of landscape scale conservation, where partnership working has produced one of Western Europe’s largest and best wetlands. Places such as these are vital in providing valuable space for newly colonising species as well as safeguarding populations of vulnerable birds such as bittern. And the really exciting thing is now predicting what’s going to turn up next – it’s the sort of place where anything’s possible”.

Simon added; “Despite the appalling weather conditions over much of this period for wardens and birds alike, these egrets have shown extreme diligence in tending the nest site. Although chicks have not yet been seen, a significant change in behaviour has been noted which suggests we may soon have some very demanding new additions to the Reserve!”

RSPB and Natural England have set up a recorded information line for people to keep up to date with the birds progress and details on visiting the reserve to view the birds. The number is 07866 554142.

Visitors to Shapwick Heath are welcome but parking is very limited. Therefore, in order to avoid disturbance to local residents, visitors are asked to park at the Avalon Marshes Centre, Westhay, BA6 9TT, where you will find directions to the Great Egret Watch.

Shapwick Heath

This magnificent wetland reserve is managed by Natural England and covers over 500 ha at the heart of the Somerset Levels and Moors. Habitats include lush green wildflower meadows; still, dark ditches; damp, secretive fens, shady, wet fern woods; and open water, fringed with rustling reedbeds.

More about visiting Shapwick Heath here.

About great white egrets

The nest is made up of a mound of reeds lined with softer plant material, and concealed deep in the reedbeds.
Usually 3 – 4 eggs are laid with the young looked after by both adults.European population are estimated at over 24,000 pairs (Birdlife, 2004).

The great white egret is the size of a grey heron, with similar habits but can be confused with the much smaller little and cattle egrets. Great white egrets feed on a range of aquatic animals including fish, frogs and insects.

In the breeding season the tip of their yellow bill turns black on both sexes, and they develop beautiful long plumes along the back. These plumes were once used to adorn ladies’ hats and dresses, and it is estimated in 1902 alone some 200,000 birds were killed to satisfy the fashion conscious women of Europe and USA (Wading Birds of the World, Soothill, 1989).

The great white egret is distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world, but is rather localised in southern Europe.

See also here. And here. And here.

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13 thoughts on “First British great egret nest

  1. Why would you think this is a result of climate change? These birds are expanding their range in all directions and it is surely the availability of suitable habitat that has enabled them to nest.


    • Hi, I am not Wildlife Extra, I am just a blogger who quoted them 🙂

      An argument for climate change as a cause in this case may be that traditionally, great egrets live in comparatively warm countries.


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