The squacco heron is one of the smaller herons that visit the Maltese islands. It breeds in small colonies in trees in southern Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia as well as in Africa, north and south of the Sahara. The European populations winter in
In Malta squacco herons are seen mostly in spring but does not yet breed here although it would probably do so if the Maltese countryside becomes safer for birds.
The best place to watch squacco herons in Malta is at the Simar Nature Reserve which offers the mix of reeds and other vegetation which is this heron’s preferred habitat. Migrating squacco herons are seen singly or in flocks of up to twenty birds.
When flying, the squacco heron appears white because of its bright white wing feathers which become uncovered during flight. As soon as it lands it becomes buff orange and it is very well camouflaged and difficult to see it when it is moving slowly in the reeds in which it prefers to live.
The squacco heron feeds on larval insects although it sometimes catches small fish and tadpoles which it hunts by walking slowly by walking slowly along the water’s edge.
Although the squacco heron has a very large breeding range and so is not considered as endangered its population is decreasing in some areas mainly because of destruction of its habitat.
In Maltese the squacco heron is known as agrett isfar. Its English name has probably been in use since 1672 and is said to originate from a local Italian name for this species, a name which might have disappeared over time as the current Italian name, sgarza ciuffetto, sounds very different from squacco heron.
Several other species of herons and egrets visit the Maltese islands during migration. The most common is the grey heron (russet griż) which can be seen in large flocks often flying overhead in V formation or in lines.
This article was published in The Times of Malta on 9 May 2014.