Great White Egret

White Heron

Egretta alba Linnaeus, 1758

Ardea alba: Reiser, 1894: 147; Klain, 1909: 110; Wetlands International, 2002: 39; Casmerodius albus: Hubalek, 1978: 45.

Order Ciconiiformes

Family Ardeidae

Conservation status: in Bulgaria: Critically endangered CR=[B1a+B2a+D], BDA-II, III; International: CITES-III, BeC-II, BD-1.

General distribution. A cosmopolitic species. It breeds in Asia, Africa, Madagascar Island, New Zealand and America; in Europe in the basin of the Danube and the Southeastern part of the continent. The total abundance in the Eeastern Mediterranean is 19 000 27 000 breeding pairs [1].

Distribution and abundance in Bulgaria. A breeding summer visitor, passage migrant and winter visitor. Since the middle of the 19th century, 4 breeding habitats have been known; in the first half of the previous century it was considered extinct; from 1956 onwards it bred regularly only in the Srebarna reserve [2, 3], where its numbers varied (2-12 pairs in the 2001-2003 period) [4]. Separate pairs episodically breed also in the Burgas lakes [5]. There are also 21 habitats registered with possible breeding along the banks of the Danube, Maritsa, Arda, Kamchiya [6]. During migration and in the winter, it is found along the Black Sea coast (up to 687 individuals in Vaya Lake in December 2001) and less frequently in low parts within the country (most numerous in the reservoirs Kardzhali, Studen Kladenets and Ivaylovgrad ) [7].

Habitats. Freshwater lakes and marshes, reservoirs and microreservoirs and fish farms. During migration and wintering periods it is also found in shore brackish water basins, non-freezing reservoirs, irrigation canals, arable areas (mainly lucernes), etc.

Biology. It breeds singularly, in small independent colonies or along the periphery of mixed colonies of herons, Glossy Ibises, Spoonbills and Pygmy Cormorants; in lakes and marshes with large reedbeds. Known are also independent nests in trees. It breeds 2-3 young ones that start flying from the beginning of July. It mainly feeds on fish, tadpoles, water insects and their larvae.

Similar species. The Little Egret (Egretta garzetta).

Negative factors. In the past it was shot down systematically because of its feathers that were used for embellishment (at the end of the 19th century) and as a pest (the 1950s); probably the drying up and the degradation of the wetlands.

Conservation measures taken. A protected species since 1962, included in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria (1985) [2]; a plan for the management of the Srebarna reserve has been prepared [8]; two of the Burgas lakes are declared Ramsar sites.

Conservation measures needed. A national plan for the conservation of the species has been prepared, studying the places for feeding around Srebarna, declaration of a bilateral reserve with Romania.

References. 1. Wetlands International, 2002; 2. Michev, 1985; 3. Simeonov et al., 1989; 4. Kambourova, 2004; 5. Dimitrov et al., 2005; 6. BSPB, in press; 7. Michev, Profirov, 2003; 8. Hiebaum et al., 2000.

Author: Tanyo Michev

Great White Egret (distribution map)

Great White Egret (drawing)