The Snowy Egret is a species of special concern in Florida and relatively rare to get close to in the wild. It is my favorite wading bird with its friendly expression exotic plumage and cute yellow feet. This one still has a lot of yellow on its legs which probably means it is fairly young.
The snowy egret is a small and active wading bird that can reach a height of 26 inches (66 centimeters) with a 39 inch (100 centimeters) wingspan (Parsons and Master 2000). This species has a full white body, black legs, bright yellow feet, yellow marks around the eyes, and a black bill.
The diet of the snowy egret primarily consists of shrimp, small fish, and small invertebrates. It feeds in fresh and salt water habitats within flocks of other wading birds.
The snowy egret begins breeding around late March to early April. This species nests with other wading birds in swamps and mangroves on islands. During courtship, the male will point his bill upwards and begin moving his body up and down as he tries to impress the female . They will nest no higher than 30 feet (9.1 meters) above the ground on a stage of sticks in trees and bushes. Females will lay three to five eggs, and they will hatch after 23-26 days of incubation. During incubation, both parents will incubate the eggs . To feed young, the parents will partially digest food and regurgitate it to the nestlings. The young are able to fly 25 days after hatching; however, they do not leave the nest until a couple months after first flight.
Habitat and Distribution
Snowy Egret Distribution
Snowy egrets commonly prefer shallow estuarine areas including mangroves, shallow bays, saltmarsh pools, and tidal channels. This species can be found in the U.S. from northern California, east to South Dakota, and south to Florida where they are widespread year-round residents. Snowy egrets are also found in Chile, Argentina, and the Greater Antilles. This species is found throughout Florida.
Historically, the snowy egret was overhunted for their plumage (feathers) which were often used for women’s clothing and hats. Today’s threats to the species are not well understood, but coastal development, recreational disturbance at foraging and breeding sites, habitat degradation, human disturbance, and increased pressure from predators are primary concerns. Similar to other wading birds that depend on fragile estuaries and wetlands for foraging and breeding, snowy egrets are at risk of exposure to persistent contaminants such as heavy metals (ex. mercury) and pesticides . Snowy egrets compete for nesting sites with growing numbers of cattle egrets, which can be aggressively territorial at colony sites, but the relationship to productivity is not well understood . Other potential threats to snowy egret populations are alterations to the hydrology of foraging areas, and oil spill impacts to critical breeding, foraging, and roosting sites.
Conservation and Management
The snowy egret is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website.
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