Great egret (Ardea alba) sexes are similar. These pure white birds with yellow bills and black legs are a often observed while hunting by standing immobile or wading in wetlands.
During the breeding season, the lores (region between eye and bill) of great egrets turn a light green and the bill turns orangish. They also develop long, graceful plumes (aigrettes) on their back. The aigrettes extend beyond the tail.
In the late 1800s, birds and bird feathers were sought after for the millinery trade. Great egrets suffered near extermination because their striking white plumes were particularly desirable. Because they nested in conspicuous, crowded nesting colonies and both sexes bore the fancy plumage, it was easy for hunters to decimate entire colonies, leaving behind starving nestlings. Conservation, public awareness and legislative successes resulted in the effective end of the “fancy feather” millinery era by the early Twentieth Century. Great egret populations began a slow recovery and today they are no longer considered a conservation concern.
These great egrets were photographed at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Pilot Butte Area) in Modoc County CA and Lower Klamath Wildlife Area (Siskiyou County CA).
More information on great egrets can be found in my 09-21-11 post titled “Great Egret”.