Lawrence William/Audubon Photography Awards

Snowy Egret

Egretta thula

Conservation status Numbers were decimated in late 1800s by plume hunters. With protection, populations recovered. In recent decades, has expanded breeding range far north of historical limits. Probably still expanding range and increasing population.
Family Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Habitat Marshes, swamps, ponds, shores. Widespread in many types of aquatic habitats, including fresh and salt water; in coastal areas, may seek sheltered bays. Inland, favors extensive marshes and other large wetlands. Sometimes forages in dry fields. Nests in colonies in trees, shrubs, mangroves, sometimes on or near the ground in marshes.
A beautiful, graceful small egret, very active in its feeding behavior in shallow waters. Known by its contrasting yellow feet, could be said to dance in the shallows on golden slippers. The species was slaughtered for its plumes in the 19th century, but protection brought a rapid recovery of numbers, and the Snowy Egret is now more widespread and common than ever. Its delicate appearance is belied by its harsh and raucous calls around its nesting colonies.
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Feeding Behavior

Often forages actively, walking or running in shallow water, also standing still and waiting for prey to approach. May stir bottom sediments with feet to startle prey into motion. Sometimes hovers and then drops to water. Also may feed in open fields, sometimes following cattle to catch insects flushed by the animals.


Eggs

3-5, sometimes 2-6. Pale blue-green. Incubation is by both sexes, 20-24 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Last young to hatch may starve. Young may clamber out of nest after 20-25 days, probably unable to fly before 30 days.


Young

Both parents feed young. Last young to hatch may starve. Young may clamber out of nest after 20-25 days, probably unable to fly before 30 days.

Diet

Includes fish, insects, crustaceans. Diet is varied, includes fish, crabs, crayfish, frogs, snakes, insects, snails, worms, lizards, rodents.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies, often or usually mixed with other species of wading birds. Male selects nest site and displays there to ward off rivals and attract a mate. Displays include pointing bill straight up, raising all plumes, and pumping head up and down while calling; variant of this sometimes given in short flight. Also flies in circles around nest site; flies high and then tumbles down. Nest: Site is in tree or shrub, usually 5-10' up, sometimes on ground or higher in tree. Nest (built by both sexes) is a platform of sticks.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

After breeding season, may wander well north. Withdraws in winter from northern breeding areas; birds banded in United States recovered in Panama, Trinidad. Permanent resident in parts of Florida, southern coastlines, Pacific lowlands. On Pacific Coast, some may winter slightly north of breeding range.

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Migration

After breeding season, may wander well north. Withdraws in winter from northern breeding areas; birds banded in United States recovered in Panama, Trinidad. Permanent resident in parts of Florida, southern coastlines, Pacific lowlands. On Pacific Coast, some may winter slightly north of breeding range.

Songs and Calls
A harsh squawk.