The Snowy egret is a small but elegant white heron. Adults are entirely white in color apart from the yellow lores between the long black bill and the eye, black legs, and bright yellow feet. The nape and neck bear long, shaggy plumes known as aigrettes. Immature Snowy egrets have duller, greenish legs.
Snowy egrets are native to North, Central and South America. They are present all year round in South America, ranging as far south as Chile and Argentina. They also occur throughout the year in the West Indies, Florida and coastal regions of North and Central America. Elsewhere, in the southern part of the United States, they are migratory, breeding in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Snowy egrets live in wetlands of many types; this includes marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, mangroves, and estuaries.
Snowy egrets are highly social and often forage in groups with gulls, terns, ibises, and other herons; they also nest in colonies. Snowy egrets are active at dawn and dusk and rest during the day. They stalk prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet, flushing prey into view by swaying their heads, flicking their wings or vibrating their bills. They may also hover, or "dip-fish" by flying with their feet just above the water surface. Snowy egrets may also stand still and wait to ambush prey, or hunt for insects stirred up by domestic animals in open fields. These birds are usually silent; during courtship displays, when threatened or defending their territory they make a harsh squawk.
Snowy egrets are monogamous, which means that both males and females have only one partner. The breeding season starts in spring. The male establishes a territory and starts building the nest in a tree, vines or thick undergrowth. He then attracts a female with an elaborate courtship display which includes dipping up and down, bill raising, aerial displays, diving, tumbling and calling. The female finishes the construction of the nest with materials brought by the male. It is constructed from twigs, rushes, sedges, grasses, Spanish moss, and similar materials and may be 15 in (38 cm) across. The female lays up to 6 pale bluish-green eggs which hatch after about 24 days. The young are altricial and covered with white down when first hatched. They leave the nest after about 22 days and become reproductively mature at 1 to 2 years of age.
In the early twentieth century, the Snowy egret was hunted extensively for their long breeding plumes that fashionable ladies wore on their hats. This trade was ended in 1910 in North America but continued for some time in Central and South America. Since then populations have recovered. Today, these beautiful birds suffer from pollution, competition with other bird species, and from the decline of wetland environments, as Snowy egrets depend on wetland areas for food. In some areas, eggs are contaminated by pesticides, which cause death.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Snowy egret total population size. According to the All About Birds resource, the total population size of the species in North America is over 143,000 birds. Currently, Snowy egrets are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are increasing.
Snowy egrets keep their ecosystem in health and habitat quality. The absence of egrets in wetlands may cause pollution, contamination of water, habitat loss, or human disturbance. Snowy egrets are also at the top of the food chain and thus control populations of fish and insects within their range.