• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

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.

11 and 12-14Sponsored Ad
Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
22–26 in
56–66 cm
Wingspan
39.4 in
100 cm
Weight
13.1 oz
370 g
Relative Size
Smaller than a Great Egret; larger than a Cattle Egret.
Other Names
  • Aigrette neigeuse (French)
  • Garceta pie-dorado, Garza chusmita, Garza nivea (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Male and female Snowy Egrets take turns incubating their eggs. As one mate takes over for the other, it sometimes presents a stick, almost as if passing a baton. Both parents continue caring for the young when they hatch.
  • During the breeding season, adult Snowy Egrets develop long, wispy feathers on their backs, necks, and heads. In 1886 these plumes were valued at $32 per ounce, which was twice the price of gold at the time. Plume-hunting for the fashion industry killed many Snowy Egrets and other birds until reforms were passed in the early twentieth century. The recovery of shorebird populations through the work of concerned citizens was an early triumph and helped give birth to the conservation movement.
  • Adult Snowy Egrets have greenish-yellow feet for most of the year, but at the height of the breeding season their feet take on a much richer, orange-yellow hue. The bare skin on their face also changes color, from yellow to reddish.
  • Snowy Egrets sometimes mate with other heron species and produce hybrid offspring. They have been known to hybridize with Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Cattle Egrets.
  • The oldest Snowy Egret on record was at least 17 years, 7 months old.

Habitat


Marsh

Snowy Egrets nest in colonies on thick vegetation in isolated places—such as barrier islands, dredge-spoil islands, salt marsh islands, swamps, and marshes. They often change location from year to year. During the breeding season Snowy Egrets feed in estuaries, saltmarshes, tidal channels, shallow bays, and mangroves. They winter in mangroves, saltwater lagoons, freshwater swamps, grassy ponds, and temporary pools, and forage on beaches, shallow reefs, and wet fields.

Food


Fish

The Snowy Egret eats mostly aquatic animals, including fish, frogs, worms, crustaceans, and insects. It often uses its bright yellow feet to paddle in the water or probe in the mud, rounding up prey before striking with its bill. Snowy Egrets feed while standing, walking, running, or hopping, and they may vibrate their bills, sway their heads, or flick their wings as part of prey gathering. They even forage while hovering. Snowy Egrets forage in saltmarsh pools, tidal channels, tidal flats, freshwater marshes, swamps, ocean inlets, and lake edges, usually preferring brackish or marine habitats with shallow water. Other foraging water birds often assemble around them to form mixed-species foraging groups.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
1.6–1.7 in
4.1–4.4 cm
Egg Width
0.9–1.3 in
2.3–3.3 cm
Incubation Period
24–25 days
Nestling Period
20–24 days
Egg Description
Pale greenish blue.
Condition at Hatching
Semi-helpless and covered with white down.
Nest Description

The male starts working on a nest before finding a mate. Then the female takes over and ends up doing most of the nest building, with materials supplied by the male. The nest is a shallow oval of loosely woven twigs, small sticks, grasses, sedges, rushes, and Spanish moss, about 14–18 inches across and 8–13 inches high.

Nest Placement

Tree

Males establish nesting territories and choose nest sites within the thick vegetation of a breeding colony. The nest is usually in the top or outer branches of a woody vine, shrub, or tree.

Behavior


Stalking

Male Snowy Egrets fight for breeding territories, choose nest sites, and perform noisy courtship displays to attract mates. A ring of other egrets often gathers around a displaying male as he pumps his body up and down, points his bill skyward, and calls. He also performs aerial displays, including one that ends with him dropping toward the ground while tumbling around and around. After pairing up, Snowy Egrets continue defending the immediate area around the nest, raising their crests and giving rasping calls. Some of their nest predators include raccoons, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, American Crows, Fish Crows, American alligators, and gray rat snakes. Highly social all year long, Snowy Egrets forage with gulls, terns, ibises, and other herons, and they nest in colonies alongside many other species, including Great Egrets, night-herons, Glossy Ibises, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Cattle Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Snowy Egrets are once again numerous and their populations were stable from 1966 to 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They have rebounded from severe losses that happened in the late nineteenth century, when masses of Snowy Egrets were killed for their long breeding plumes. Concerned citizens curtailed the plume trade in 1910 within North America, although hunting continued longer in Central and South America because of demand in Europe. Once safe from plume hunters, Snowy Egrets rebounded in numbers and even extended their original range. They can be found throughout the U.S, with the exception of some of the more northern states, Central, and South America. Their biggest continuing threat is habitat loss: more than 100 million acres of wetlands in the U.S. have been drained since colonial times (when total wetland area was estimated at 127 million acres). Since Snowy Egrets spend more time feeding than many other herons, they may be especially sensitive to environmental changes that reduce available prey. The future of this and many other wetland species depends on coastal wetland conservation across North and South America.

Credits

Range Map Help

Snowy Egret Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident to long-distance migrant. Breeding populations in the interior of North America and along the north Atlantic coast are completely migratory. Many western birds winter in Mexico, while many eastern birds migrate to the Gulf Coast or fly across the ocean to the Caribbean islands and South America.

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.