Little Egrets’ Territorial Dispute

on 27th December 2011

“Of the white birds of Singapore, the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), also known as Snowy Egret, is the most common. Two sub-species can be found here (above). E. g. garzetta is widespread and considered as a common winter visitor, while E. g. nigripes is considered a rare visitor. These sub-species of the Little Egret are almost identical in appearance except for their feet: garzetta has completely yellow feet while nigripes has mostly black feet (below).

“In mid April 2011, I came across a solitary nigripes on the bank of a storm canal (below). Beside its blackish feet, I was impressed with its yellowish facial patch between its eyes and bill. Comparing images of the two sub-species, the dfference in facial patch between the eyes and bill appeared obvious and could be used to distinguish the two sub-species. For nigripes, it is intensely coloured in yellow while for the garzetta sub-species, the yellow colouration was duller and much subtler.

“In early December 2011, almost eight months later, I had another encounter with the nigripes sub-species in the same location (below). I had a hunch that it could be the same bird although this cannot be ascertained. This time, it was not alone. There were four other garzettas lined along the same stretch. They were all on the opposite bank with the nigripes on the extreme right of the flock. Spaced several metres apart from each other, they were stalking for fish.

“After observing them for a short time, the lone nigripes flew to land near two the garzettas (below). As the nigripes walked nearer, the situation became tense as a face-off occurred with the nearest garzetta. It was likely to be a territorial dispute as the nigripes tried to assert its territorial rights over the garzettas. With wings out-stretched, it took a sudden plunge at one of the garzettas, forcing it to run into the shallow water. The nigripes continued to be the aggressor; chasing after the garzetta as it moved along the sloping bank. Moments later, the tide turned, and roles were reversed with the chaser becoming the chased. After successfully defending its fishing territory, the chaser stopped chasing and turned to walk back. Peace returned.

Kwong Wai Chong
24th December 2011

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. Snowy Egret should not be an other name for Little Egret as it refers to another species in the New World (Egretta thula), it replaces the Little Egret in the New World where Little Egret rarely visits, on glance, they are extremely similar, with black thin bill and yellow toes on black feet, however their size is different (when viewed side by side), the breeding plumage also differs, there are other jizzy differences, but since Snowy is not found here, I am not particularly familiar with them.

  2. Dear Mr.Kwong Wai Chong

    I m wondering if I can make use of those picture – dancing egrets that you have posted on 24/12/2011 for some design reference . Would appreciate if you could contact me via email. Thanks

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