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The Beautiful Snowy Egret, a Crown Jewel in the Birding World

Updated on May 13, 2015
Snowy Egret Fishing
Snowy Egret Fishing | Source

Beauty Can Be the Cause of Demise

A mid-sized pure white heron in the United States is the upstart and pristine-looking Snowy Egret. The egrets and herons have not had an easy life in this world, due to their remarkably gorgeous countenance. Due to this fact, hat makers in the early twentieth century took advantage of their white plumes, and made a great deal of money on these beautiful wading birds via ladies’ hats. It was such a state of affairs, that these birds died as a result of this travesty. I could never imagine plucking a bird of its feathers, no matter how sought after or beautiful that it is or was.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret | Source

Extinction Thwarted by the Federal Government

In this age, people are prohibited from doing such cruel things, which allowed this bird to thrive over the century that it was forbidden to desecrate and kill them. Even the advocate, John James Audubon killed birds in order to do his beautiful drawings to keep them alive in books. Little did he realize that what he was really doing was helping to decrease the number of these gorgeous birds, helping to render some of them nearly extinct in his day.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret | Source

The Latin Egretta Thula

Egretta thula has a slender black bill and bright yellow feet with black legs as an adult. A juvenile has green-gray legs in the rear part. During breeding season, the adults are blessed with yellow lores(area between the bill and the eyes), but those are bright red in high breeding season, as well as gorgeous recurved plumes on the back, and those bright yellow feet turn red or orange-red. Those wondrous plumes sweep and curve magnificently beyond the tail feathers and its plumage is always a solid white. This is truly a striking bird at the breeding time, and one would definitely look twice at such a handsome specimen. After courtship and nesting have begun, this beauty’s feet and lores return to their normal yellow coloring.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret | Source

Interesting Fishing Habits

This beauty has a few interesting ways about it, especially the fact that it moves so rapidly in the water in order to stir up creatures in the mud for feasting. It will also raise a foot to the top of the water in order to entice fish and small crustaceans closer to its mouth by simulating food for its prey. It will move its foot in a circular motion, which creates a ripple in the surface of the water, just like a landing water insect might. They will also occasionally vibrate the bill. They first crouch over the water with the neck slightly pulled back, the place the bill over the surface of the water to vibrate the bill. Small fish are attracted by the water movement. When these fish are within range, they are grabbed by their captor. Snowy egrets are diurnal(daytime) feeders.

Snowy Egret(background)/Great Egret(foreground)
Snowy Egret(background)/Great Egret(foreground) | Source

How to Know the Snowy Egret

It is quite easy to tell the difference between the medium-sized Snowy Egret and the large Great Egret, commonly seen in the water at the same time. While the snowy rushes about, the Great Egret is much more laid back, and has a yellow bill. Even though Great Egrets could not escape the hat makers, their lives were also threatened by ladies finery, but not as severely as the darling of the millinery trade.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret | Source

Habitat and Nesting Behavior

These wonderful, showy birds frequent ponds, the shore, marshes, lakes, and tidal flats. They prefer the peace of less traveled areas by humans, but with that also comes the threat of common predators, like the raccoon. If in the Deep South, the alligator provides protection from the raccoon, but their eggs are prime food for crows and predatory fish, which happen to relish eggs in general.

Eggs are usually laid every couple of days in either a high or low nest of branches that appear to be not very sturdy. Sometimes, the young birds can be seen through gaping holes in the nest, and it is a wonder how they can actually remain within the structure, such as it is. The last chick to hatch could easily be a week behind the first one, and chances are great that it will not fledge. The older and larger siblings can be very aggressive, and unless it is a year with plentiful food, it could be the food of alligators or the ground dwellers.

Fledgling Snowy Egret
Fledgling Snowy Egret | Source

Young Birds

Young Snowy Egrets are covered with white down, and their skin is green, which sometimes will show right through the feathers. During the first week of life, they are helpless and fed regurgitated fish by the parents directly in their mouths. These young nestlings are protected from the sun and inclement weather by the parents shading them, which is called mantling. When they are approximately three weeks of age, the nestlings become branchers, which is strongly encouraged by the parents, which will stand off the nest for longer periods of time. However, chances are high that a young bird will lose its footing, were it can drop to the ground, and will be sadly retrieved by lurking predators in a moment’s notice.

"Coming in For a Landing"
"Coming in For a Landing" | Source

Where the Snowy Can Be Found

The young will fledge(fly from the nest) in about six weeks. The Snowy Egret usually flies in flocks and will quickly drop in, almost tumbling to the ground as it does so.

The snowy breeds along the Atlantic coast, the Gulf coast, the northwest through Mexico and Baja California, then turn north up the Pacific coast through mid-Oregon. There are also select inland areas that it will turn up as a summer visitor, and quite possible that it will go to southern Canada. It is a common bird, which is fortunate, as it nearly lost its life almost a century ago.

"I'm Not a Girl!"
"I'm Not a Girl!" | Source
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© 2014 Deb Hirt

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Peg! Glad to be increasing your knowledge base about birds. There is so much to learn and do for them in order to keep them proliferating. Thanks for reading.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      These are truly beautiful birds and it was interesting to learn about their early days as hatchlings. The little guys really have a tough start. I did not know about Audubon and his need to kill birds in order to draw them. I learned a lot here and the photos were awesome.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Rebecca! Glad to hear that. That's why the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and all those other federal laws were written, to protect those beauties from being usurped by mankind. And to think that our lawmakers would dare to deny them the same protections now...

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Egrets are gorgeous birds, and your photos really do them justice. Enjoyed!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Beauty surrounds us everywhere, Cyrius. We just need to look to find it.

    • profile image

      Cyrius 2 years ago

      Patty, I have often felt this is one of the ways we honor God. By simply taknig a moment and being thankful for all the beauty he puts into our world we truly honor him. How many people are unable to see the things around them to be thankful for is sad because there are a lot of them. Thank You for the reminder and I hope you have a blessed day.Heather

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They were in good supply this year, Glimmer Twin fan. I even had one born on the lake in the local heronry. What a deal!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Hoping you enjoyed your Thanksgiving. I love Snowy Egrets and I always know when I'm getting near the Outer Banks when we see them in the sound side. This year we saw lots and lots of them which was so nice to see.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Oh, yes, Dianna, a lot has been done for birds over the years, but only because visionaries could see what was coming and had the foresight to act upon it, while gaining assistance from others in a position in which to help. Now, our problem is global warming, outdoor cats(sorry catalogers, but they really DO take a toll on the bird population), pesticides, and the loss of habitat. Until we can grab the bull by the horns and work on these problems, our beautiful birds will not survive en masse into the next century. Please vote for lawmakers that are on the side of the environment and animals, while removing those that don't care or refuse to admit that there is a problem.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I am going to have to watch for the breeders this year. It would be so awesome to see the fluffy head feathers! I'm glad the laws were passed to prevent them from being used by hatmakers.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Dave. I certainly agree about never knowing too much about these birds. They also manage to teach us something else that we never expected.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Excellent article in your unique style,learned so much here about your Egrets,I never come away disappointed. You can never be taught to much about birds and as far as your species are concerned there is no better teacher. Voted up,interesting and useful.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, tazzytamar! It is my calling to educate people about birds and the perils associated with their lives. Now we must be especially cautious about what we feed them--no bread, rice or crackers. They eat seeds, fruits, insects, and duck pellets. Also, we must keep trash out of the water and off the land, most notably plastic. There are young albatross on Midway Island dying from the plastic that has washed up on the shores. The more I talk about t, I think, the more people will learn and help.

    • tazzytamar profile image

      Anna 3 years ago from chichester

      They are so beautiful and majestic! What a tragic thing to kill a bird for a hat in times where synthetic feathers can be bought so easily. I'm glad they are now protected as they deserve to be. I really enjoyed reading this (:

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Kevin, I'm glad that you were able to get to it.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I see what you are saying Deb, this time I looked and it was there. I also looked up Snowy Egret on Wiki and guessed at the photo, it had a different source.

      Kevin

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      That's correct, manatita! As people, we must rally, and make ivory something that this world doesn't want. I believe that we are on the way to doing it.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Tamara. We must take charge of our actions and help wildlife proliferate now. Global warming is causing a lot of harm. Check out Global Warming: Is There Any Hope? Animals will become victims if their food supply is cut off, and as is it now, they must relocate. The state of Maine could risk its lobster population.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Glad you enjoyed it, Phyllis. There are a lot more stories where this one came from, and if you like birds, I think you'll enjoy Great Blue Heron, The Silent Sentinel just as much. Happy birding!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 years ago from london

      Deb, Sad what we do as humans sometimes. Such beautiful birds! Similar story in Tanzania and Kenya, only the prey this time are elephants but they use their tusks for profit also.

      Excellent Hub!

    • profile image

      Tamara14 3 years ago

      Excellent read, thank you. What a gorgeous creature and what a horrible victim of fashion.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Deb. I love this hub. My homeland is the Pacific Northwest and we would see the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron often around March Point wetlands. They are so pretty. Thanks for writing the hub, I enjoyed reading it.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks for the shares, Kevin! You probably did see Snowy Egrets in NJ, as they are in that area. There's no telling what happened with the wikipedia photo. I checked it, and it appears for me, but you never know what is going on with google.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      This was interesting Deb. I cannot believe that there were places killing the birds to make ladies hats. What would they have done if there were no more birds? They could not make anymore hats, or money.

      When I was in NJ I think that I saw a Snowy Egret in a lake, I remember I used to watch several types of egrets and herons in the lake. It has been years and I am not sure now what they were. I voted this up, shared and G+ it.

      Kevin

      P.S - When I read the section "Habitats and Nesting" there was no photo so I tried the slideshow and it still did not show. Then I tried following the source and all that I saw was Wiki's home page.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Love it, Sha! I just friended you on Facebook.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Deb, if he captured them as beautifully in photographs as you do, he'd have no nee to kill them. I wish I could include a photo in this comment. If you'd like to see them, shoot me an email for an upfront look!

      I've been meaning to take a video or shoot some photos of the Great Blue Herons I see when I go to my grocery store, but I don't want to spook them. Today, they were giving off their 'hawlk' call. They're awesome!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, midget. Welcome to my world...

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sha, I am so, so pleased that you get to see these grand birds so close to your home! It must be such a beautiful experience. A lot of people killed birds in the old days BECAUSE it was legal. They could also trap and sell these gorgeous wild songbirds as pets to do with what they would. JJ Audubon later admitted that he felt bad that he had to kill birds in order to create such beautiful artwork. He later became a great advice, which is why he was named for the society. He studied birds and provided a lot of necessary info as a naturalist , which was great work for pioneering ornithology.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      This is astounding!!! The egret is a truly awesome creature. Womderful

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I find it ironic that John James Audubon killed birds. Isn't the Audubon Society named after him? How did that happen?

      I love the Snowy Egrets. I've seen them feasting on bugs in my yard after a rain. I've also seen Great Egrets taking a leisurely stroll down the sidewalk. It's quite comical, actually.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Kim! The sad thing is, that it is STILL happening in assorted locations, and even to birds, especially in Asia. Bird lovers have been rallying there, too, and there are still plenty of organizations battling for the other animals, too. Right now, many are fighting against the travesty being done to elephants for their tusks and babies.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Jeannie! Birds, birds, everywhere, so why not educate the world?

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Well, Billy, you know me and my birds, I just can't get away from them...

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 3 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      It is amazing what the human race has done all in the name of fashion. Don't get me started on big game hunting in the Edwardian/Victorian era, not to mention the shooting parties of game birds on estates. It's nice to see the government stepped in so the numbers of these beautiful creatures could rebound. Great job, Deb, at bringing awareness.

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      jeannie dibble 3 years ago

      WOW!! loved this.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A series like this is a natural spinoff from the Boomer Lake series. I always learn something interesting from you, Deb.