Snowy Egret

Egretta thula
Range Map

The Snowy Egret epitomizes the ‘active’ feeder. They use their bright yellow feet to disturb hidden prey into the open, where they then become vulnerable to attack. These birds are adaptable in their feeding strategies and some observers have reported them in the company of cormorants, exploiting the prey chased into the shallows by the diving cormorants. I have observed and photographed a pair of Snowy Egrets shadowing a Red-Breasted Merganser in the estuaries of South San Diego Bay, where they captured prey disturbed by the diver.

These showy waders range year round throughout most of South America, but in North America they are year-round residents on the mid-Atlantic coast and south along the gulf coast to Costa Rica. On the Pacific coast, they are resident in California along the coast and in the Central Valley. In the interior USA, some birds wintering as far south as Mexico migrate north to the Great Basin, the middle Rio Grande and lower Colorado River valleys, and the mid-West.

There are currently two subspecies of Snowy Egret recognised by science:

  • E. t. thula breeds throughout eastern North America south through Central America, the Greater Antilles, and all of South America. Northern birds winter mainly along Gulf coast, in Florida, Caribbean, Central America and northern South America.
  • E. t. brewsteri breeds western North America west of Rocky Mountains.

There lives in Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia a similar-looking bird called the Little Egret. In the past few decades, observers have documented the Little Egret as breeding in the Americas, so it promises to create some identity confusion in the years ahead.

Until I visited Texas in 2020 and 2021 (except for my trip to Isla Clarion in Mexico), all my meetings with Snowy Egrets were in the American southwest. Those birds were likely E. t. thula, and the Texas birds were likely E. t. Brewsteri. In Texas, I once found a white-morph Reddish Egret foraging in the surf at the mouth of the Rio Grande alongside Snowy Egrets. I first thought it was another Snowy Egret until I examined the photos I took showing both species, and I noticed the discrepancies.

61 Photos

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