Around 10am daily, these white birds (Egretta garzetta) descend onto the watery areas near the centre of the campus, such as Tasek Varsiti. On their long legs they slowly shuffle through the water, an action which causes small fish to dash for safety. Once they detect movement, it is only a matter of extending its long neck and striking the fish with its well-adapted bill. Like most animals that feed on fish, the egret has a long slender bill which allows it to easily grab and swallow fish. However, these birds are also known to feed on terrestrial insects and can occasionally be found in cattle pastures.
Little egrets are covered with completely white plumage, with their legs and bill a grey-black color. Though usually obscured, their bare face and feet are yellow. Males can be identified during breeding season by two long ribbon-like plumes that extend from the back of the head like the one in the picture (above). The individuals present in Malaysia are a combination of residents and migrants, with the visiting subspecies identifiable by its black feet. This species is one of the most widespread of all egrets, found in almost all the continents of the world. Consequently it is considered to be of Least Concern in terms of its conservation status.
No breeding colonies of the little egret have been found on campus, as they tend to need thick dense vegetation to start colonies. Large breeding colonies of little egrets can reach up to thousands of pairs, although it is unlikely to happen here due to the lack of resources in terms of suitable nesting sites and food availability. It is possible that the birds sighted on campus may travel from their nests in a different location to feed here, there have been recent reports of egret colonies in neighbouring Bandar Utama. These colonies are vulnerable to poaching and habitat destruction. It would be of great conservation value to look into creating more water bird-friendly environments on campus.
This photograph was contributed by Siti Noraisah Kadir of UM's Water Warriors, a flagship programme under UMCares that is involved with the revitalisation of Tasek Varsiti. Catch more of these lovely birds as the health of Tasek Varsiti improves!