- A-Z Animals
The snowy egret is a graceful, active species of small- to medium-sized herons known by its entirely white plumage, black legs, and contrasting yellow feet. Although sometimes mistaken for a great white egret, it has a smaller body, with a black bill and yellow feet. The great egret, in contrast, has a larger body, yellow bill, and black feet. It is much more active than the great white egret while feeding. Instead of walking in fields, the snowy egret usually has its feet in the water.
Size: Their length ranges from 56-66 cm (22-26 in), with a wingspan of approximately 100 cm (39 in).
Weight: Snowy egrets have an average weight of about 370 g (13.1 oz).
Color: Adults have pure white plumage, yellow lore (patch of the skin occurring between the eye and bill), black bill and legs, as well as yellow eyes and feet. Juvenile snowy egrets have a similar coloration except that their legs are dull and greenish.
Body: These herons have a delicate build and possess long, slender bill and legs. Their nape and neck have aigrettes, which are long, shaggy, tufted plumes.
Sexual dimorphism: The male snowy egrets are larger than females.
The native range of snowy egrets includes North and Central America, as well as South America. They are found throughout the year in Florida, coastal regions of both North America and Central America, the West Indies, and in South America, including Chile and Argentina. While their breeding range comprises the southern United States, they are seen as migratory birds in Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Mississippi.
They commonly occur along the coast but are also found in inland wetlands such as swamps, marshes, lakes, and ponds. They sometimes forage in agricultural fields, as well as along the riverbanks. These herons nest in colonies, usually in shrubs, trees, and mangroves, and occasionally on the ground in marshes.
While the snowy egrets may live up to 15 years in the wild, their lifespan may exceed 16-17 years in captivity. The oldest snowy egret ever recorded was found in Mexico, and it lived for approximately 17 years and 7 months.
They feed on mostly aquatic prey, including crustaceans, fish, insects, worms, and frogs. These herons may eat while walking, running, hopping, or standing. They may also ‘dip-fish’ using their feet while hovering or flying just above the surface of the water. Snowy egrets are sometimes seen assembling around and foraging in a mixed-species group.
The mating season of snowy egrets starts in late March-early April. They usually breed in mixed-bird colonies that may include cattle egrets, little blue herons, great egrets, tricolored herons, night herons, roseate spoonbills, and glossy ibises. The male builds a nest in vines, trees, or thick undergrowth and perform elaborate courtship displays to attract a female mate. Courtship involves a male pumping its body up and down, raising its bill, diving, tumbling, and producing different vocalizations.
Once the male finds its mate, it defends the nesting site from other birds and brings materials used by the female to finish constructing the nest. The nest may have a diameter of about 38 cm (15 in) and is built from materials like twigs, grasses, sedges, Spanish moss, and rushes. During copulation, the male stands on a female’s back with the cloacal cavities coming into contact for about 10 seconds.
The female lays about 3-6 pale, greenish-blue eggs at a time, and the chicks hatch from their eggs after an incubation of 24 days. The chicks become ready to leave their nest at the age of 14-22 days.
The hatchlings are covered with soft, white down feathers and are unable to move around. They have a light, pinkish-gray bill and a dark blue patch around their eyes.
The snowy egrets were hunted extensively during the early 20th century. Their breeding plumes were in great demand, as those showy feathers were worn by fashionable ladies on their hats. Their populations, however, recovered after these herons got recognized as a ‘protected species’ per the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1916. Since their current population has an upward trend, the IUCN has granted them a status of ‘Least Concern’.