Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

The Snowy Egretin my humble opinion—doesn’t get enough credit. They may not sport bombastic colors like the Roseate Spoonbill or stand at four feet tall like the Great Blue Heron but make no mistake my nature-loving friends, this chic waterbird is just as, if not more fascinating. From its early “rich” history in the fashion world to its versatile mating and foraging behaviors, the Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) is among the most dainty and well-rounded wetland birds in its class. Curious? You’ve come to the right place!

I see a lot of Snowy Egrets in the wetlands of Florida and around the coast—they’re one of the most common birds I photograph. Hours upon hours I’ve spent capturing their animated rituals and elegant mannerisms in the crosshairs of my lens and yet still, it never gets old.

The Snowy Egret hasn’t always been so commonplace though. In the late 1800s, the fashion industry’s crass infatuation with feathers nearly wiped out their entire population. In 1886, their shiny white breeding plumes were selling for $32 an ounce, which at the time, was twice the price of gold.

It wasn’t until 1918 when the United States passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) aimed at curbing poaching and over-hunting that they would finally began to flourish in numbers again. I’m certainly glad they did—I can’t get enough of these birds! And I much prefer them alive in the wild than dead and displayed like trophies on an awful, gaudy hat…

Some Basic Information About Snowy Egrets

  • Scientific Name: Egretta thula
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae (herons, egrets, and bitterns)
  • Conservation Status: Stable; Low Concern
  • Size & Wingspan: 27 inches tall; 41-inch wingspan
  • Lifespan: 16-17 years in the wild; 22 years in captivity


Snowy Egrets are arguably one of the most refined birds in the heron family. Skinny, small waders, fully grown they stand at a little under or over two feet tall, have a wingspan of approximately 3.5 feet, and weigh less than a pound—about 13 ounces, to be exact. But believe you me, what they lack in size, they make up for in gumption.

To compare, the Snowy Egret is larger than a Least Bittern, but slightly smaller than the Reddish Egret or Tricolored Heron.

Their necks are long and slim and attach to an equally small head that rests a fair distance from their oblong bodies. In flight, they glide through the air with heavy swooshing wingbeats, toes pointed, and bodies parallel to the ground beneath them.

Mature Snowy Egrets

As adults, the plumage from their crowns to their tails are a crisp snow white and accompanied by slender pointy black bills, black legs, and golden yellow feet that look amusingly like water shoes. Each foot has four toes, three pointed forward and one pointed behind, all capped with strong black talons. The base of their beaks and around their lores also have small notes of yellow. During the spring and summer breeding seasons, they dawn curvy, long plumes on their tails, head, and neck—the very feathers that were once worth a small fortune. Their feet and bills also change from sunny yellow to more of a burnt reddish orange.

Juvenile Snowy Egrets

Young snowies are outfitted in all-white plumes too, but their legs are more of a muted greenish color. They eventually grow into their black legs.


These snowy waterbirds are native to certain areas of South, Central, and North America, Florida being one of them. They also appear year-round in coastal areas of Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Southern California. During migration and breeding seasons, you can see them as far north as Wisconsin, as far west as Oregon and California, and as far east as Maine in the U.S.

Snowy Egrets are extremely social. They nest, breed and forage in colonies with other herons, gulls, bitterns, egrets, and ibises on fresh and saltwater wetlands, mudflats, beach shores, marshes, mangroves, grasslands, Cypress swamps, ponds, rivers, estuaries, and lakes. With so many different habitats in one, the Florida Everglades is an ideal spot for them to call home.  

Where Can I See a Snowy Egret in Florida?

Like I mentioned before, these birds are seen frequently in the Sunshine State so getting a look at one yourself is fairly easy to do. If you’re somewhere around the coast or inland close to wide-open wetlands or shallow mudflats, keep an eye out for a skinny, medium-sized white bird with black legs and yellow slippers stalking the water. The odds are quite good that you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.

If you can’t see a “Snowy” foraging, listen for gurgling croak-like noises coming from low branches or surrounding shrubs during breeding season. You can’t miss it—it’s similar to the retching sound humans make when getting sick, just not as gross, I promise.

There is also a chance you catch them flying overhead where you live, even if water isn’t necessarily close by. These birds are wanderers, so seeing one or a dozen in flight up above is basically a bona fide guarantee if you’re in Florida.




Behavior and Feeding

The behaviors of Snowy Egrets are what make them more unique than other herons and egrets. Incredibly active and versatile fishers, they often hunt alone, but mingle occasionally with other wading birds. Sometimes the presence of other birds actually helps to stir up fish and other aquatic life underneath. Hangout with a couple of friends, do less work, and catch a bite to eat? Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

When foraging, Snowy Egrets are resourceful and employ multiple tactics, ultimately adapting to whatever gets them and their hatchlings fed. Typically starting their hunt by silently wading in shallow water, these egrets use their pointy black beaks like a bayonet, spearing small fish and marine life below the surface. Sometimes, they choose to stand and wait for their prey to come to them, other times, not so much—as these avians aren’t against putting on a show in the good name of food. They commonly stalk their meal by energetically shuffling back and forth, heads swinging, with their wings fanned and lifting off the ground ever-so-slightly to corner whatever it’s chasing. Once the moment is right, they strike. They’ll also make use of their own feet and their bills to stir up sediment and flush out their prey.

But wait, there’s more! I told you the Snowy Egret is versatile, and I meant it. This bird doesn’t necessarily need to be wading in shallow pools to get something to eat. In some cases, they’ll hover above the surface and then drop to grab a fish. They’re even known to follow cattle and eat the insects they kick-up or expel in the water. I’m telling you, a bird of all trades!


What Do Snowy Egrets Eat?

Snowy Egrets have a well-balanced carnivorous—mostly piscivorous—diet that consists mainly of small fish, shrimp, worms, baby frogs, snakes, crabs, aquatic insects, dragonflies, beetles, mosquitos, small lizards, salamanders, grasshoppers, rodents, crayfish, prawns, snails, and on occasion, even some aquatic plants here and there. It’s almost like I can hear my mother saying, “make sure to eat your greens too!”

Nesting and Displays

In Florida, Snowy Egrets begin breeding in the spring, around March and April and continue until summer in August. They’re monogamous and so once they’ve found a partner, it’s typically for life. But that’s where things get even more interesting…

One of the most intriguing things about these egrets is that they sometimes mate with other heron and egret species, creating hybrid bird babies. They’ve been known to mate and produce offspring with Little Blue Herons, Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets, and Tricolored Herons. Talk about flexibility!

Snowy Egret Nests

Snowies nest in rookeries with other wading birds in mangroves, shrubs, trees, vines, and sometimes on the ground, in marshes. Not hard to fathom I’m sure, since you now know that they also mate with them as well.

The nests themselves are more than adequate in size, oval in shape, and measuring at about 15 inches wide and sit about five to fifteen feet off the ground. They’re flat and shallow and consist of small sticks and twigs for the base and are lined with Spanish moss, rushes, quaint twigs, and fine grass. It can be difficult sometimes for Snowy Egrets nesting in colonies, as other heron and egret species like to steal the twigs they’ve collected for their own nests. A bunch of bullies if you ask me!

These aviators are also quite the neat freaks—always removing debris and egg shells from the inside in the nest. I’m telling you, a bird after my own heart!

Nesting and Courting Displays

The male Snowy Egret finds where he wants to build his home and then begins the first steps of construction on his newly established territory himself, sometimes squabbling with other birds for claiming rights. Now the parade of elaborate love-finding antics can begin! This is no ordinary wooing, mind you—the male attracts his lady with fantastical displays of tumbling, diving, plume fluffing, head pumping, aerial demonstrations, beak raising, raspy mating calls, and dropping it low. I suppose just about everything these waterbirds do is eclectic!

Once a female has noticed all the effort and says, “I do”, she finishes the construction of the nest with materials he fetches for her. It’s believed that pairs can’t recognize each other away from their nest and so each time one of them leaves, they must put on a fancy greeting ceremony upon return, so they don’t get ambushed as an invader.

Eggs, Parenting, and Maturation

Breeding Snowy Egrets have an average of two to six eggs a season. They’re pale teal in color and small—about 1.7 inches long and just over or under an inch in width. Both mom and dad help with keeping the eggs warm until they hatch. Incubation lasts 24 to 25 days before the first chick is born, 24 hours later, the second egg will begin to break out of its shell and over the next couple days, the rest follow suit.

When born, babies are immobile, downy, and helpless. The last egg to be born is usually the smallest, and often the runts starve and die. After 22 days, the surviving chicks are ready to leave the nest. In just a year or two, they’ll be matured adults and ready to start families of their own.

Snowy Egret Life Cycle

In the wild, there are reports of Snowy Egrets living to be 17 years old. In captivity, they’ve been known to live to 22 years old. Of course, they have their fair share of survival issues. Like any other living thing in the animal kingdom, Snowy Egrets have predators, namely raccoons, hawks, horned owls, crows, and large snakes that regularly eat their eggs, young, and even the adults. At least now, they don’t also have to worry about being hunted for their ostentatious breeding feathers.

And, as I mentioned above, because all the eggs aren’t laid or hatched at the same time, it leaves a lot of uncertainty around making it to adulthood. For a Snowy Egret chick, it really is survival of the fittest.

Snowy Egrets and Wildlife Photography in South Florida

I think I’ve made a pretty darn good case here as to why you shouldn’t sleep on the Snowy Egret. Sure, they may be common to see, but they are certainly not ordinary!  They’re truly one of the most diverse birds in the Ardeidae family and I hope that the next time you see one, you stop to appreciate them and bask in all their exquisite glory.

If you loved all the images you see here, you’ll love the Dan Power Gallery online store where you can find all these and many more available for purchase in a variety of sizes, frame options, and surfaces.

Snowy Egret (right) in the company of a Great Egret
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