The Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) is a small white heron. It is the American counterpart to the very similar Old World Little Egret, which has established a foothold in the Bahamas.
Adults are 61 cm long and weigh 375 g. They have a slim black bill and long black legs with yellow feet. The area of the upper bill, in front of the eyes, is yellow but turns red during the breeding seaon. In breeding season, adults have recurved plumes on the back making shaggy plumes.
Their breeding habitat is large inland wetlands and coastal wetlands from the lower Great Lakes and southwestern United States to South America. The breeding range in eastern North America extends along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Maine to Texas, and inland along major rivers and lakes. They nest in colonies, often with other waders, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. Their flat, shallow nests are made of sticks and lined with fine twigs and rushes. They are usually built in trees or shrubs. The 3 to 4 greenish-blue, oval eggs are incubated by both adults. The young leave the nest in 20 to 25 days and hop about on branches near the nest before departing.
In warmer locations, some are permanent residents; northern populations migrate to Central America and the West Indies. They may wander north after the breeding season. It is an extremely rare vagrant to western Europe, although the first bird for Britain wintered in Scotland from 2001-2.
These birds stalk their prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet, flushing prey into view. Snowy egrets may also stand still and wait to ambush prey. They also hunt for insects stirred up by domestic animals in open fields. They eat fish, crustaceans, and insects.
At one time, the beautiful plumes of the Snowy Egret were in great demand by market hunters for decorating women's hats. Hunting for this purpose reduced the population of the species to dangerously low levels. Now protected by law, the bird's population has rebounded.
Encouraging the protection and conservation of the remaining fresh-water and offshore islands, will help snowy egrets as other wildlife.
To reduce disturbance to colonial nesting birds avoid travel and recreation near nesting areas during the breeding season. Do not allow pets to roam freely in coastal or wetland habitats.
* Stiles and Skutch, A guide to the birds of Costa Rica ISBN 0-0814-9600-4
* "National Geographic" Field Guide to the Birds of North America ISBN 0792268776