Western reef-egret is the name given to two former subspecies of the little egret (Egretta garzetta), now treated somewhat contentiously as a single separate species (3)(4)(5)(6). This thin, medium-sized heron occurs in two distinct forms, one of which has mostly dark slaty-grey plumage and a white throat, while the other has predominately white plumage (2)(3)(5). During the breeding season, both forms develop red lores and distinctive plumes on the head, chest and back (3)(5). The legs are dark, while the feet are bright yellow, except during the height of courtship when they turn pinkish red (5).
With a diet chiefly comprised of fish, crustaceans and molluscs, the western reef-egret forages mainly over shallow water and mud (2)(3)(4). Most foraging activity occurs during the day, with non-breeding adults generally foraging alone or occasionally in small groups (4)(5). At night, however, this species sometimes roosts in large numbers (up to 1,000 individuals), in mangroves and on rocky cliffs and islets (4).
Breeding occurs between April and July and also in October, with some individuals forming solitary pairs, whilst others gather in small colonies of up to 100 pairs. The nest is a platform of twigs and seaweed positioned on the ground, in reedbeds and mangroves, and on ledges or rocks. Although very little is known about the movements of the western reef-egret, some populations appear to disperse widely after breeding and may be partially migratory (4)(5).
Native to coastal West Africa from Mauritania to Gabon, and coastal East Africa, through the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf to India (3). Vagrant individuals have been recorded as far away as Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America (4).
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