2013 ~ Maybe you have guessed but I just love Snowy Egrets - the white bird on my mail notifications and my business cards. That particular picture was taken at the Houston Zoo but I see them all over. So, this adventure is going to be devoted to Snowy Egrets. I am going to tell you about their habitat and behavior and show you lots of cool pictures.
Oh, and now I have a couple of subscribers that are in Europe. For you, this Snowy Egret is closely related to your Little Egret. I see photos of the Little Egret taken in Europe, Indonesia and even Australia on Instagram. The history in Europe is fascinating (thousands of Egrets were included in a big banquet meal for an Archbishop in the 1400s) and sources say the Little Egret is starting to gain a foothold in the Barbados and along the coast of North America. I don't know if they were stowaways on a cruise ship or blown over by the winds or what. Migration is an interesting subject but we can save that for another time.
Here is the North and South American range map for Snowy Egrets. They are found in marshes and wetlands, along rivers, lakes and ponds. We are lucky here on the Gulf Coast of Texas to have them as year-round residents.
They nest in colonies with other wading birds. And you can bet I will report to you if I find any nests!
And for my readers in Canada, not much chance of seeing one at home, but you guys are always traveling to Florida and other places to escape the cold. Just file all this away for the future.
When I first started bird watching, I had trouble knowing if the white bird walking around in the shallow water was a Great Egret or a Snowy Egret. They are totally different sizes, but if you are new at this or don't have a good point of reference, size is hard to judge. Seeing them side by side helps.
Now, that helps doesn't it?
There is one more white long-legged bird and that is the Cattle Egret. It is even smaller than the Snowy Egret and you have seen flocks of them in fields following cows. The Cattle Egret is closely related to the ones in Africa you see on nature programs that are riding on the backs of water buffalo. It has some brown/orange plumage, but I imagine when they are flying, it might be hard to decide if it is a Snowy or Cattle Egret.
Look back at the two. The bigger, Great Egret has a yellow bill, the smaller Snowy Egret has a black bill. They both have black legs but... look at the Snowy's foot. It is bright yellow!
I mean, how cool is that? And look at the one above. See those yellow stripes on his legs? That shows he is a juvenile, not quite fully mature. I didn't know that until I started doing a bit of research for this. No way he can fool anyone; better than an ID card.
Here he is walking around in the shallow water. They eat fish, crustaceans, insects and small reptiles. And I have watched them hunting for food a lot. They are very active and fast. The bigger Great Egret will stand in one spot FOREVER and eventually spear something. But these guys have a different strategy.
See those ripples? And remember those yellow feet? He takes a step and moves his foot back and forth in the water. Those bright feet are waving around and attract prey to the area. Another step and wiggle the foot. And another step... and all the while he is watching and ready to snatch his dinner!
They are really fast and fun to watch. All of these waders are fairly social and you can see them with Ibis and Little Blue Herons and ... oh, that reminds me. During their first summer, the juvenile Little Blue Heron has white plumage. They don't get their adult plumage that first year and they hang around with the Snowy Egrets. Just to confuse you.
See? This is the juvenile Little Blue Heron. His legs are greenish, not black. And his feet are not yellow. Of course, when he is in the water you won't see the color of his feet, and if the water is deep enough, you won't see those legs. So, you have to look at the color of the bill. Which is greenish, not black. Got all that? Their posture is a bit different, too, and it can be confusing for a novice.
Now, for more pictures of this great bird.
This was taken in February at Brazos Bend. I had been following this one around the shore at 40-acre lake. He was maybe 10-12 feet off the shoreline but evidently he was tired of me watching him. They have a pretty loud squawk. He is getting his breeding plumage, just look at those lacy feathers. My bird books tell me that the skin around their eyes will turn red during the breeding season. I will be looking for that!
Oh, by the way. The above photo got a feature from IG_Birdwatchers on Instagram.
This last photo was taken at a new place, Cullinan Park. It is not as far as Brazos Bend and has a nice lake with boardwalks. You can get close to the waders and ducks. Only bad part is that it is next to a small airport and I get startled by the planes landing. It does not faze the birds; I suppose they are used to the noise.
Now, you are armed and dangerous, ready to go out and identify white wading birds. Keep an eye out, you will often see the larger Great Egret in drainage ditches around town. The Snowy Egret might visit lakes around golf courses and I saw one last year in Rummel Creek where it crosses Memorial.
Have you seen any white wading birds in your neighborhood? Could you now identify which one it might be? Let me know in the comments.