Why do little egrets have yellow feet?

BBC Wildlife contributor Mike Toms answers your wild question.

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The little egret is a type of heron © Ken Petch / Getty

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The yellow or greenish-yellow feet of the little egret are characteristic of this small heron, the coloration developing while the young are still in the nest.

Little egrets usually feed in fairly shallow water, moving forward with slow and deliberate steps, interspersed with frequent halts. It is during these stops that an egret may extend one leg forward and, with a rapid vibrating motion, stir up the muddy or vegetated bottom of the water in which it is hunting. 

This action disturbs hidden prey, such as small fish, amphibians or invertebrates, flushing them into the open where the sharp-eyed bird can strike at them. It is thought that the yellow feet aid this process, being more obvious to potential prey than all dark feet would be in this sediment-filled water.

The little egret is the only European heron to specialise in small prey – typically no more than a couple of inches in length – which require a more active approach to hunting than seen in our other heron species. 

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