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‘Little Egret’ Visits Thurles Town Centre, Co. Tipperary

This, still considered rare, ‘Little Egret’ flew into Thurles Town centre at dusk yesterday evening, no doubt to “take the waters”, as so often advised in simpler, ancient times. Its intention, no doubt, was to embark on a physical healing, cleansing and rejuvenation venture. God help us, having viewed the River Suir area, it did not stay for very long.

An exotic cousin of the native Grey Heron, Little Egrats are to be found mostly on the Mediterranean and along the coasts of north Africa. I had spotted its nervous presence amongst us, just two years ago, living in more solitary confinement, residing in the Drish River area, east of the town, but this evening it decided to head for those dizzy bright lights of Barry’s Bridge, in our town’s centre.

A ‘Little Egret’ visits River Suir in Thurles town centre.
Pictures: G. Willoughby

Nevertheless, this white, little aquatic Heron-like stranger, with the yellow feet, slender black beak, blue-grey lores, (the lore is the region between the eye and bill on the side of a bird’s head) and streaming plumes, began to visit Ireland for the first time only half a century ago. Back in the 1970’s the species began coming in small numbers and later began staying for long periods.

As courtship approaches, the adults of both sexes grow two slender plumes (nape-feathers) from the nape area of their neck, and more from their throat. They build twiggy nests of sticks, often alongside those of the Irish Grey Herons, before laying and hatching families of between 3 to 5, incubated by both parents.

These streaming head plumes are not simply for physical attraction, but appear to also get used where hostile social display is required. When excited; Little Egrets get noisy, making gulping sounds especially when defending a favourite feeding site, where little fish, crustaceans, molluscs, insects, worms and frogs are plentiful.

Once scarce in the Irish midlands, the Little Egret was considered rare in Ireland, until it was first discovered breeding here around 1997. The species has since expanded its territory to many coastal counties, and has become more visible at a number of wet inland sites, including in Co. Tipperary.

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