The Beautiful Snowy Egret, a Crown Jewel in the Birding World
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2014 Deb Hirt