As we drove along Rookery Road beside Lake Martin, I spotted a couple of Snowy Egrets as they foraged for food in the nearby water. Snowy Egrets are medium-sized herons with long, thin legs and long, slender, bills. Adults are all white with a black bill, black legs, and yellow feet. They have a patch of yellow skin at the base of the bill. Immature birds have duller, greenish legs.
During the breeding season, adult Snowy Egrets develop long, wispy feathers on their backs, necks, and heads. In 1886 these plumes were valued at $32 per ounce, which was twice the price of gold at the time. Plume-hunting for the fashion industry killed many Snowy Egrets and other birds until reforms were passed in the early twentieth century. The recovery of shorebird populations through the work of concerned citizens was an early triumph and helped give birth to the conservation movement.
Snowy Egrets wade in shallow water to spear fish and other small aquatic animals. While they may employ a sit-and-wait technique to capture their food, sometimes they are much more animated, running back and forth through the water with their wings spread, chasing their prey.
They are most common along the coast, though they do breed patchily in inland wetlands. Snowy Egrets nest colonially, usually on protected islands, and often with other small herons. They concentrate on mudflats, beaches, and wetlands, but also forage in wet agricultural fields and along the edges of rivers and lakes.
Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, www.allaboutbirds.org.