Little egrets have a pure white plumage. Their legs and beak are black. During the breeding season adults develop long plumes on their nape, breast and back. There are darker colour morphs of this bird, some being black with a white throat.
Most little egret populations are migratory, breeding in Europe and central Asia in spring and summer and then moving to central and southern Africa, Indonesia or New Zealand for the remainder of the year. Some populations, however, do not migrate, and live either in southern and central Asia or in coastal regions.
They often form colonies with other species, making groups of several thousand pairs. They will nest on the ground in protective vegetation, such as in reeds, trees or bushes. Groups in Europe incubate more eggs than their African counterparts. Chicks hatch after 40 to 45 days.
Little egrets hunt alone within loose flocks. They will use a variety of hunting techniques including stirring up the mud with their feet to disturb small aquatic insects. These birds will also eat crustaceans, small fish, amphibians, molluscs and worms. They will even take small birds. They travel long distances from their colony to find suitable feeding grounds.
These birds are classed as Least Concern. Their main threat is habitat loss due to the destruction of wetlands throughout their range. In parts of their range they are hunted by local people, although the practice of hunting for their plumes has now been reduced.