Snowy EgretEgretta thula

adult, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
juvenile
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult, breeding, display
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Description

20-27" (51-69 cm). W. 3'2" (97 cm). A small, delicate white heron with a slender black bill, black legs, and yellow feet. In breeding season, it has long lacy plumes on its head, neck, and back. Immature bird similar to adult, but lacks plumes and has yellow stripe up back of leg. Adult Cattle Egret has pale bill, legs, and feet; immature has dark bill, legs, and feet. Much larger Great Egret has yellow bill and black legs and feet. Similar to immature of less common Little Blue Heron, but that species has a stouter, bluish-gray bill, greenish-yellow legs and feet, no yellow skin between eyes and base of bill.

Voice

A harsh squawk.

Listen

colony sounds
gagging croaks

Habitat

Marshes, ponds, swamps, and mudflats.

Range

Breeds locally from Oregon and California east to New England, mainly along coasts but also at scattered localities inland. Winters regularly from California, Arizona, and Virginia south to West Indies and South America. Also resident in tropical America.

Discussion

These delicate, agile birds often feed by sprinting rapidly through shallow water, chasing schools of minnows and shrimp. This habit makes them easy to identify without seeing their bills and feet. Often several Snowies will be found feeding together, and it is thought that their white color, visible at great distances, lets other birds know where the feeding is good; the sprinting behavior also attracts other birds that then join in the feast. There is evidence that members of a pair of Snowy Egrets, like other large waders, cannot recognize one another except at the nest. Even there, a bird arriving to relieve its mate must perform an elaborate greeting ceremony in order to avoid being attacked as an intruder. During this display the plumes on the head are raised and the incoming bird bows to the one that is sitting. Appeased by this display, the sitting bird leaves and the other takes over.

Nesting

3-5 pale blue-green eggs placed on a platform of sticks in a bush or reedbed or on the ground. Nests in colonies, often with other species of herons.

Similar Species

adult, breeding

Great Egret

35-41" (89-104 cm). W. 4'7" (1.4 m). A large, all-white heron with a yellow bill and black legs. In breeding plumage, has long lacy plumes on back.

adult, breeding

Cattle Egret

20" (51 cm). A small, stocky white heron, with buff on crown, breast, and back during breeding season. Legs pale yellow or orange in adults, blackish in some immatures.

adult

Little Blue Heron

25-30" (64-76 cm). W. 3'5" (1 m). Adult slate blue with maroon neck. Bill grayish with black tip; legs greenish. Immature is white, usually with dusky tips on primaries.

Vireo

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