Easily identified by their snow-white bodies and bright-yellow feet, the snowy egret is one of Florida’s most widespread and commonly observed wading birds. Snowy egrets are in the heron family and are often found in shallow mangrove, estuary, marsh and wetland habitats. They are also commonly found on the coast. Year-round residents in the state of Florida, snowy egrets are widely distributed across the United States and can be found as far south as Chile and Argentina.
Snowy egrets average a height of 24-26 inches tall and have a wingspan of up to 40 inches wide. Their bodies are covered in bright-white plumage (feathers) and their stilt legs are jet black with their characteristic bright-yellow feet. Their beaks are also black and have a bright-yellow patch at the base of their bill.
The snowy egret begins breeding in the springtime — in Florida, that is typically between March and April — like many other species in the state. During this time, the adult snowy egrets will develop long, wispy feathers on their backs, necks and the top of their heads. They nest on islands in their swamp and coastal habitats, where the females lay around three to five eggs. Both parents take part in incubating the eggs, which hatch around four weeks later. Both mom and dad will continue to rear their young for weeks to follow.
Snowy egrets feed in both fresh and saltwater habitats and can be found intermingled with other species of wading birds. Their diet consists primarily of fish, shrimp and small invertebrates.
Historically, snowy egrets faced a major threat in the late 1800s due to the popularity of their plumage, specifically the feathers on top of their heads, that were being used in hats and as fashion accessories. The rapid decline from hunting them for that plumage jump-started conservation efforts that have thankfully preserved them to the present day. Today, snowy egrets are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and, with continued conservation awareness and efforts, will be around for many more generations to enjoy.
If you want to help snowy egrets and other coastal and wetland birds, remember to reduce waste, reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, recycle and remove and properly discard fishing lines, nets and hooks. Never approach or feed wildlife and always observe from safe distances. Together, we can keep Florida beautiful and wild.