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Snowy Egret
snowy egret
Snowy egret, photographed at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach, Palm Beach County.

If you see a bird with pure white feathers and extremely bright yellow feet, you’re probably looking at a snowy egret, Egretta thula.

It’s a common bird around the wetlands of South Florida, where it is a year-round resident. Unmistakable, really. The bird that is closest in appearance is an immature little blue heron, which lack the yellow feet and have a slight blue hue rather than the snowy's pure white. Immature little blues also take on a blotchy appearance as they get older until they finally turn all blue.

Snowy egrets can be found over much of the United States, but are found year-round only in the extreme Southeast and Southern California. There are summer populations further north along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in parts of the Rockies.

They're also found year-round throughout the Caribbean, coastal Mexico and most of South America sans the Andes backbone. Mangrove forests, saltmarshes, freshwater swamps and ponds are common habitats.

They are pure white, with a bright orange face, a black bill and of course the yellow feet. Snowies display delicate white plumes called aigrettes on their heads and backs during breeding season. The feet also turn a deeper shade of yellow.

Snowies are sociable birds. They nest in remote areas in colonies and often forage together with other birds. So sociable that they often mate with herons and other egrets.

They nest in trees or shrubs, with males starting nest construction using sticks grasses and spanish moss before selecting a mate. The chosen female will take over and do most of the remaining work.

snowy egret

Snowy egrets have one brood a season, each with two to six eggs. The eggs hatch after about four weeks of incubation; the young snowies are ready to fledge after three or four weeks. Both parents help feed the young, but there is a chance the last egg to hatch might starve. Males remain territorial within the colony.

Their menu includes fish and frogs, which they spear with their bills, crustaceans and insects. They're watch-and-wait hunters for the most part, but they also will employ more active methods as well.

Like too many other birds, snowy egrets were targets of overly aggressive hunters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fashion of the day fueled demand for their feathers and severely diminished their populaton. Even after hunting in the U.S. was outlawed, snowies continued to be hunted in Central and South America, the feathers shipped to Europe. Snowy egret numbers have rebounded, but now the big threat to the bird is habitat loss.

Snowy egrets are members of Ardeidae, the heron family.

Photographs by David Sedore
snowy egret snow egrets snowy egret
Links for Snowy Egret Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology National Audubon Society National Geographic Society
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.