Breeding snowy egrets (Egretta thula) have white plumes (aigrettes) on their crown, nape, foreneck and back. Because of the demand for their plumes in the millinery trade during the 1800s, by the turn of the century these pure white birds were almost hunted to extinction. In the early 1900s, alarm over the demise of these (and other) species resulted in states and the Federal Government creating reserves where the birds were protected. The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act made it unlawful to capture, kill, sell or possess migratory birds and also protected their parts (feathers, nests, eggs, etc.). Snowy egret populations have recovered since the treaty was enacted.
This entirely white, monotypic heron has a thick black bill, yellow lores (area from the base of the bill to the front of the eyes), black legs and yellow feet. During the breeding season the lores are red and the feet are more orange. Great egrets (Ardea alba) closely resemble snowy egrets. The most obvious field differences are size (24″ for snowy egret and 39″ for great egret) and the color of their feet (snowy egrets being yellow and greats being black). Snowy egrets often congregate with great egrets and other herons. In one of the pictures, taken at the ponds near the Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Lassen County CA) headquarters, the size and foot differences are easily seen.
Snowy egrets are found throughout most of the New World except for the northern areas. They inhabit freshwater and saline habitats and are most common along the coast. Fish and aquatic invertebrates comprise most of their diet.
These pure white birds always look so majestic as they stand at attention watching for prey.