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Species Description

Snowy Egret

Egretta thula


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ardeidae

Description

White overall; lores (areas between the eyes and the bill) are yellow; black bill and legs; yellow feet. In breeding plumage, the lores are red, feet are orange, and long plumes on the neck, head, and back curve upwards. 61 cm (24 in) in length; 104 cm (41 in) wingspan.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in mid-January, peaks in April and May, and extends through July. This species nests in a variety of sites near fresh or salt water, usually in a nesting colony with other wading birds. Nests are usually built in trees or shrubs over the water from 3-6 m (10-20 feet) above the ground. The nest is constructed from twigs and sticks and made into a platform-style nest. The female lays 1-6 (usually 3) eggs that both adults incubate for 23-26 days. The young are semi-altricial. By 3-4 weeks after hatching the young leave the nest, but are still cared for by the adults.

Natural History

The Snowy Egret inhabits shores of lakes or ponds, marshes, swamps, and tidal areas. It forages mostly in shallow water, eating primarily crustaceans, fish, insects, and small vertebrates. It forages by waiting for prey to pass by and will also stir up prey with its feet and chase after it.

Range

Snowy Egret Region Map The Snowy Egret occurs in most southern coastal areas all year. Breeding individuals also occur in the Southwest, northeastern coastal regions, and Southeast. Specifically in the Southeast, it occurs in most coastal areas and is rare in the Mississippi alluvial valley during the breeding season. In the winter it is most common in southern Florida and Louisiana, but can be found throughout most coastal areas. This species winters as far south as northern South America.

Conservation Status

Prior to the protection of our native species, the Snowy Egret and many other large wading birds were extensively hunted for their plumes. During the mid-1800s it was very fashionable for women to have bird feathers on their hats and clothing. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and other laws made it illegal to harm many of our native birds and pulled this species back from very reduced numbers. Today the Snowy Egret is not listed needing special conservation attention in any portion of its southeastern range.

Similar Species

The species most similar to the Snowy Egret is the Great Egret. The Great Egret is much larger (99 cm; 39 in length), and has a yellow bill, black legs, and black feet.