Thursday, March 21, 2013
Yesterday I spent some time watching 3 Little Egrets feeding in a field alongside the Western Yar Estuary. I love the way they stride from one point to another as they spot invertebrate prey on the surface - look at the way the individual I'm filming spots a juicy worm and hones in on it at about the 1 minute mark.
Little Egrets were spotted in the UK in the 1980s and started to breed in Dorset in the mid-1990s. What I confess I hadn't realised was that they used to be very common here. Today Justin Welby will be enthroned as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and I've just found out that, when George Neville was enthroned as Archbishop of York in 1465, a 1000 egrets were on the menu!
That seems to have been a high point, though, and their numbers began to diminish rapidly over the following centuries. The coup de grace occured from the 18th century onwards. Notice the neck plumes of the two adults in the video (the other bird is a juvenile which won't breed until its second year). According to the British Trust for Ornithology website, 'The elegant neck plumes of an egret in breeding plumage were once more valuable than gold, smuggled into Europe they fetched £15 an ounce or 28g (about £875 at 2000 prices), each Little Egret producing about 1g of plumes.'
In fact, it was the plight of this bird - among others - that lead to the formation in 1889 of 'the Plumage League' by Emily Williamson, which eventually became the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds!