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.Back to top
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.Back to top
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.
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.
|Clutch Size:||2-6 eggs|
|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.|
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.Back to top
Snowy Egret populations were stable from 1966 to 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 2.1 million and rates them 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Populations have rebounded from severe losses in the late nineteenth century when masses of Snowy Egrets were killed for their long breeding plumes which were used to decorate women's hats. 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.Back to top
Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl (2002). Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, DC, USA.
Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.
Parsons, Katharine C. and Terry L. Master. (2000). Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
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Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.
Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.