I have never taken a course in bird identification, and identifying anything other than a pelican, cardinal, woodpecker or Blue Jay always stumps me. So when I saw this guy above me on the roof of a small beach shelter, I didn’t know whether to call him a heron, an egret or some other type of sea-bird.
After looking at photo after photo of White Herons and White Egrets, I finally stumbled upon the answer. It is a Snowy Egret.
Market hunters in the late 19th century nearly wiped out the entire population of Snowy Egrets in order to attain their plumes, which were very popular on women’s hats. In 1886 these plumes were worth $32 an ounce, twice the price of gold during that time!
Fortunately, someone had the foresight to end the massacre. Snowy Egrets came under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, an Act which protects 836 bird species. The Act makes it illegal for people to
pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or part, of any such bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof…
Here are a few interesting characteristics of Snowy Egrets:
- Snowy Egrets feed in shallow ponds and marshes, usually using one foot to stir up the bottom, flushing their prey to the top. If necessary, they will also run after their food. Sometimes they just stand still and ambush their prey as it comes to them. Another method is “dip fishing,” where the Snowy Egret flies with its feet just above the water. Or, it just may hover over the water, then drop, catching its prey with its bill. Prey consists of shrimp, small fish, small frogs, small reptiles, and insects.
- A pair of Snowy Egrets cannot recognize each other except at their nest. The arriving bird must first perform a type of greeting ceremony, with its plume raised as it bows to the bird sitting on the eggs.
- These year round residents of Florida generally stay silent. However two calls have been attributed to them, a “loud, nasal squawk in aggression or territorial defense” and a “wulla-wulla-wulla.” Neither are very appealing, to the human ear anyway.
I believe I will actually be able to identify a Snowy Egret the next time I see one. Eventually I may even be able to identify the herons from the egrets overall. But I’m not making any promises just yet.