News

Rare Birds Breed in the Avalon Marshes

Cattle Egret

There are celebrations in the Avalon Marshes following the news that cattle egrets have bred successfully in the area for only the second time ever in the UK.

The exotic birds, members of the heron family, have adopted a 70-acre wetland recently purchased by the RSPB adjacent to its flagship Ham Wall nature reserve near Glastonbury. The area is also home to the majority of the UK’s breeding great white egrets, another bird that has colonised the UK in the past five years.

There have been five nests of cattle egrets on site, producing 11 youngsters. Alongside these, seven great white egret nests have produced 17 young.

Steve Hughes, RSPB Ham Wall Site Manger, said; “We are delighted to provide these wonderful birds a new wetland home. A lot of the heron species seem to be moving north in Europe, and it’s vital that they have suitable places breed. Here at Ham Wall the work the RSPB does to provide the right conditions is really paying off. Who knows what will colonise the site next.”

Slightly smaller but much rarer than the little egret, cattle egrets have been visiting the UK in increasing numbers. They often spend time close to livestock and grab insects and worms that their hooves disturb. Cattle egrets have yellow or greyish legs and a yellow beak, compared to the black legs (with yellow feet) and black beak of the similar little egret.

The success of the birds has been followed by a specialist team of RSPB-led volunteers, trained to monitor bird species freshly resident in this country [Note 4].

Chris Baker a local volunteer who co-ordinates the team said; “This is a great opportunity to monitor and track a newly colonising species. The volunteers, all enthusiasts and birdwatchers from Somerset, are specially trained to look for signs of breeding and to monitor the birds without disturbing the still small colony.

“It’s very important as a way of understanding what is going on with this population, and to track its progress. We’re also ready for any new colonisation… this is an exciting time for the UK’s wildlife.”

Photo – John Crispin

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