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Snowy Egret

Egretta thula ORDER: PELECANIFORMES FAMILY: ARDEIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Among the most elegant of the herons, the slender Snowy Egret sets off immaculate white plumage with black legs and brilliant yellow feet. Those feet seem to play a role in stirring up or herding small aquatic animals as the egret forages. Breeding Snowy Egrets grow filmy, curving plumes that once fetched astronomical prices in the fashion industry, endangering the species. Early conservationists rallied to protect egrets by the early twentieth century, and this species is once again a common sight in shallow coastal wetlands.

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Keys to identification Help

Herons
Herons
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    These are medium-sized herons with long, thin legs and long, slender, bills. Their long, thin neck sets the small head well away from the body.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult Snowy Egrets are all white with a black bill, black legs, and yellow feet. They have a patch of yellow skin at the base of the bill. Immature Snowy Egrets have duller, greenish legs.

  • Behavior

    Snowy Egrets wade in shallow water to spear fish and other small aquatic animals. While they may employ a sit-and-wait technique to capture their food, sometimes they are much more animated, running back and forth through the water with their wings spread, chasing their prey.

  • Habitat

    They are most common along the coast, though they do breed patchily in inland wetlands. Snowy Egrets nest colonially, usually on protected islands, and often with other small herons. They concentrate on mudflats, beaches, and wetlands, but also forage in wet agricultural fields and along the edges of rivers and lakes.

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Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Juvenile Little Blue Herons are all white, but have a thicker, gray-and-black bill and small, dusky gray tips to their wings. They also have dull yellow-green legs and feet. Little Blue Herons usually forage with a much more sedentary style than Snowy Egrets. Cattle Egrets are smaller and more compact, with shorter and thicker bills, and they typically feed on dry land. Their legs and bills are yellow, whereas Snowy Egrets’ are black. Great Egrets are much larger than Snowy Egrets, with yellow-orange bills. In flight, they have slower and deeper wingbeats than Snowy Egrets. In coastal areas, especially in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, watch out for white-morph Reddish Egrets. They are larger than Snowy Egrets, with two-toned pink-and-black bills.

Find This Bird

Your best chances of seeing Snowy Egrets will come on a trip to the coast, especially to places with mudflats and tidal wetlands. Scan the shallows for slender, medium-sized white herons with black bills and legs. A closer inspection will likely reveal the yellow facial skin and feet of a Snowy Egret.