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Snowy egret: Egretta thula

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus/Species: Egretta thula
Common Name: Snowy egret

Listing Status

Federal Status: Not Listed
FL Status: State Species of Special Concern
FNAI Ranks: G5/S3 (Globally: Demonstrably Secure/State: Rare)
IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)

Physical Description

The snowy egret is a small and active wading bird that can reach a height of 26 inches (66 centimeters) with a 39 inch (100 centimeters) wingspan (Parsons and Master 2000).  This species has a full white body, black legs, bright yellow feet, yellow marks around the eyes, and a black bill.

Life History

The diet of the snowy egret primarily consists of shrimp, small fish, and small invertebrates.  It feeds in fresh and salt water habitats within flocks of other wading birds.

The snowy egret begins breeding around late March to early April.  This species nests with other wading birds in swamps and mangroves on islands.  During courtship, the male will point his bill upwards and begin moving his body up and down as he tries to impress the female (Weslosky 2002).  They will nest no higher than 30 feet (9.1 meters) above the ground on a stage of sticks in trees and bushes.  Females will lay three to five eggs, and they will hatch after 23-26 days of incubation.  During incubation, both parents will incubate the eggs (Weslosky 2002).  To feed young, the parents will partially digest food and regurgitate it to the nestlings.  The young are able to fly 25 days after hatching; however, they do not leave the nest until a couple months after first flight (E. Sachs pers. comm. 2011)   

Habitat and Distribution

Snowy Egret Distribution MapSnowy egrets commonly prefer shallow estuarine areas including mangroves, shallow bays, saltmarsh pools, and tidal channels (Parsons and Master 2000).  This species can be found in the U.S. from northern California, east to South Dakota, and south to Florida where they are widespread year-round residents.  Snowy egrets are also found in Chile, Argentina, and the Greater Antilles.  This species is found throughout Florida.

Threats:

Historically, the snowy egret was overhunted for their plumage (feathers) which were often used for women’s clothing and hats.  Today’s threats to the species are not well understood, but coastal development, recreational disturbance at foraging and breeding sites, habitat degradation, human disturbance, and increased pressure from predators are primary concerns (Rodgers et al. 1996, Kushlan et al. 2002, Stolen 2003). Similar to other wading birds that depend on fragile estuaries and wetlands for foraging and breeding, snowy egrets are at risk of exposure to persistent contaminants such as heavy metals (ex. mercury) and pesticides (Rodgers 1997, Spalding et al. 1997).  Snowy egrets compete for nesting sites with growing numbers of cattle egrets, which can be aggressively territorial at colony sites, but the relationship to productivity is not well understood (Parsons and Master, 2000).  Other potential threats to snowy egret populations are alterations to the hydrology of foraging areas, and oil spill impacts to critical breeding, foraging, and roosting sites.

Conservation and Management

The snowy egret is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website.

Biological Status Review (BSR) Adobe PDF
Supplemental Information for the BSR Adobe PDF

Other Informative Links

Birds of North America External Website
Encyclopedia of Life External Website External Website
Florida Natural Areas Inventory External Website
FWC Breeding Bird Atlas Adobe PDF
International Union for Conservation of Nature External Website
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology External Website
U.S. Geological Survey External Website

 

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References

Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliot, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, B. Syderman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler, and K. Wohl. 2002.  Waterbird Conservation for the Americas:  The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, Version 1.  Waterbird Conservation for the Americas.  Washington, D.C.

Parsons, Katharine C. and Terry L. Master. 2000. Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/489 External Website

Rodgers, J. A., Jr., H. W. Kale, II, and H. T. Smith, editors.  1996.  Snowy Egret.  Pages 420-431 in Rare           and Endangered Biota of Florida, Volume V. Birds.  University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Rodgers, J.A., Jr. 1997. Pesticide and heavy metal levels of waterbirds in the Everglades agricultural area of south Florida. Florida Field Naturalist 25: 33-41.

Spalding, M. G., C. K. Steible, S. F. Sundlof, and D. J. Forrester. 1997. Metal and organochlorine contaminants in tissues of nestling wading birds (Ciconiiformes) from southern Florida. Florida Field Naturalist 25: 42-50.

Stolen, E. D.  2003.  The effects of vehicle passage on foraging behavior of wading birds. Waterbirds 26: 429-436.

Weslosky, A. 2002. "Egretta thula" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 14, 2011 http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Egretta_thula.html External Website.


Image Credit Photo by FWC



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