Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

African visitors who like it here so much they've decided to settle down and start a family

Egret
Egret

They've been slowly invading Northern Ireland for around a decade.

And now the stunning little egret has finally sealed the deal, with wildlife experts discovering the first breeding birds.

Three pairs were found nesting in tall trees on the western shore of Strangford Lough late last summer – although it has only just been made public as the National Trust asks people to keep their eyes peeled for other pairs.

While some birds like the corncrake and yellowhammer have been disappearing from Northern Ireland, the little egret has been expanding its range from north Africa – and experts believe it's due to global warming.

Craig McCoy, area warden for Strangford Lough with the National Trust, said: "Little egrets have been breeding in around Cork and have been gradually getting further north. In the last few years we noticed not just the numbers increasing, but a few of them have been hanging around the same places.

"We kept saying: 'I bet you they're breeding somewhere' but that was the first time we found nests with chicks."

The heron-like bird was hunted practically to extinction because of its two distinctive head feathers, which were high-fashion in ladies' hats in the 1800s.

Little egrets can often be seen at northern Strangford Lough, in Dundrum Inner Bay or Lough Erne.

Factfile

The pure white little egret is a member of the heron family and has two long plumes on its head during breeding season. It first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989 and first bred in Ireland in 1997. Its persecution led to the setting up of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889.

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