Saturday, January 1, 2011

Snowy Egret

Breeding Plumage and Chicks
The Snowy Egret is actually a small, white heron that can be found across the United States, and all the way down to South America. Population in warmer climates remain as permanent residents year round, while others in colder regions are migratory.

Male and female Snowy Egrets look alike, with slender, white-feathered bodies, black beaks, black legs, and yellow feet. During the breeding season they have long plumes on their heads, backs, and necks. They stand about 2ft (61cm) tall and possess wingspans of around 3ft (92cm).

Snowy Egrets feed on crustaceans and fish. They hunt by stirring up the water with one foot, and then plunging down with their bill once prey emerges. Snowy Egrets breed once a year, and 3-5 eggs are laid in large, platform-like nests that are built either on the ground or up in trees. Both parents feed and care for the chicks. Interestingly, there is evidence that the Egret mates can only recognize one another while at the nest. When returning, a bird must do an elaborate ceremony to prove that they are not an intruder.

Egret in Flight
Did you know that at one time Snowy Egret feathers cost twice as much as gold by weight? Plumes were highly valued for the hat-making industry in the late 19th century. Egret feathers at that time sold for as much as $32 an ounce. The demand for these feathers was so high that the Egrets nearly went extinct from over-hunting. They were eventually given protective status and their population recovered. They are now listed by the IUCN as being of Least Concern.

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