This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the snowy egret.
This is another bird whose beauty nearly caused its extinction. In the 1800s, the long, wispy, white plumes that adorn the backs, necks and heads of breeding snowy egrets were used to decorate fashionable hats. An ounce of plumes was valued at twice the price of gold, and many birds were hunted and killed until protections were enacted in the early 1900s.
Snowy egrets inhabit mudflats, beaches, wetlands and the edges of rivers and lakes. In summer, they are widely distributed across the U.S. (with the exception of northern states), and in Central and South America. Many western populations winter in Mexico.
Highly social birds, they forage and nest alongside many other species of herons and egrets. Nesting occurs in colonies in the thick vegetation of isolated islands, swamps or marshes. A platform nest of sticks is usually built at or near the top of a woody vine, shrub or tree.
These egrets employ a variety of foraging strategies to capture the fish, frogs, crustaceans, worms and insects that make up their diet. They feed while walking, running, hopping or standing still, often using their large feet to stir up prey. They are also known to fly and hover over water to look for fish, and to follow farm animals to eat the insects that they flush.
When seen in breeding plumage, these medium-sized herons are snow white with white plumes and have a black, dagger-like bill, reddish-yellow skin in front of the eyes, a long neck and black legs ending in bright yellow feet, their “golden slippers.”
These birds have been reported here on Pinon Lake, Lake Capote, Echo Lake and the Riverwalk.
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