Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula). Photographed at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Titusville, Florida.
A threatened species, the Snowy Egret is a medium-sized, white heron with a slender, black bill, black legs and yellow feet. The area of the upper bill, in front of the eyes, is yellow but turns red during the breeding season. Showy, recurved plumes are present on the back during the breeding season. The snowy egret is much smaller than the great egret.
This species was among the most sought-after of all herons and egrets for its delicate, recurved back plumes, used to adorn women’s hats. In 1886, plumes were valued at an astounding $32 per ounce, twice the contemporary price of gold. Plundering for plumes began about 1880, peaked in 1903, and continued until 1910, when outraged citizens forced the passage of laws that reduced the slaughter.
Herons that utilize pursuit or chase behaviors, like the Snowy Egret, are more specialized and selective than searchers. These behaviors are energetically expensive requiring Snowy Egrets to spend proportionately more time feeding than other species. Thus, they may be particularly sensitive to environmental influences which impact prey density and availability.