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- Cosumnes River Preserve

All About the Snowy Egret

By Emily Anderson

Description: With its snowy-white plumage, this slender heron always seems to be on display when foraging in the wetland ponds. When in plain sight, you can see its black bill and black legs as well as its striking yellow feet and under-eyes.

Habitat: Snowy egrets are known to nest in colonies, especially within thick vegetation that grows in isolated areas. This includes barrier lands, swamps, marshes, and spoil islands. They winter in mangroves, saltwater lagoons, freshwater swamps, grassy ponds, and forage on beaches, shallow reefs, and wet fields.

Food: These delicate looking birds are quite the hunters. They eat mostly aquatic animals including frogs, fish, worms, crustaceans, and insects. They use their brilliant-yellow feet to examine and stir up the mud, making it easy for them to close in on their target.

Conservation: The main threat for these birds is habitat loss. Snowy egrets spend more time feeding than many other herons and may be especially sensitive to environmental changes that reduce available prey. The snowy egret has made a rebound in its numbers since the late 19th century thanks to the efforts of concerned citizens who helped throughout North America, who advocated for protection of the egrets and their habitat.

Interesting facts:

Male and female snowy egrets will take turns incubating their eggs. As if passing a baton to a teammate, these birds will step in for each other to care for their eggs and encourage their growth.

-Snowy egrets sometimes mate with other heron species and produce hybrid offspring. They have been known to hybridize with tri-colored herons, little blue herons, and cattle egrets.

 -In 1886, the breeding season plumes of snowy egrets 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.