Scientific Name: Egretta thula
Abundance: Coastwide-Breeds in North Carolina; also winters
in the state, but in smaller numbers (brown dots)
Snowy Egret (Photo: Frank Schulenburg)
Snowy Egret Chicks (Photo: KeLight Photography)
The snowy egret is represented on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America by the race Egretta thula thula. Seldom found far from brackish water, this egret is a fairly common breeder along the coast of North Carolina.
One of the smallest wading species, the snowy egret is approximately 2 ft. long, with a wingspread measuring as much as 3 1/2 ft. The plumage is pure white throughout the year. Males and females are similar in appearance even during the nesting season. During the breeding season, snowy egrets acquire long filamentous plumes on the back, head and neck in both sexes. Birds can erect these plumes to display their feathered finery to each other during courtship and to rivals in defense of their territories.
Snowy egrets are found in wetlands along the coast of North Carolina and occasionally inland. They nest in colonies or groups on barrier and estuarine islands. These birds appear to prefer nesting on small islands in the sounds, which are generally isolated and provide protection from mammalian predators such as raccoons. Platform stick nests are built by both sexes and are placed in trees, shrubs and sometimes on or near the ground in marshes. Most colonies contain several species of wading birds, often with hundreds of them congregating in raucous communities of less than an acre.
Snowy egrets feed in wetland habitats such as tide pools and shallow bays where they eat fish and other aquatic organisms. These carnivores employ some interesting techniques to catch their prey. They are very active foragers, often running or walking in shallow water in pursuit of fish. They will also try to flush prey from hiding spots by using their yellow feet to stir or paddle the water. These actions may either attract or scare fish into motion at which point the egret can strike with its specially adapted, long bill.
Learn more by reading the Snowy Egret Species Profile.
The snowy egret is a nongame bird species with no open hunting season. The species is state listed as a Species of Special Concern. In North Carolina, a Species of Special Concern is defined as any species of wild animal native or once native to North Carolina that is determined by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to require monitoring but that may be taken under regulations adopted under the provisions of Article 25.
Listed species cannot be collected or taken except under a special permit issued by the Wildlife Commission’s Executive Director.
Protected Wildlife Species of North Carolina listings (PDF)
There are no reported problems with this species.
The Wildlife Commission and partnering organizations conduct coast-wide surveys for snowy egrets and other waterbirds every couple of years in an effort to monitor population trends and nesting locations. Biologists also post state-owned nesting sites during the breeding season to protect nesting birds from human disturbance. Many of these sites are on man-made dredge-material islands in the sounds.
You can help snowy egrets and other nesting birds by respecting signs and staying off of posted areas. This simple act can go a long way toward ensuring birds have a successful breeding season. In addition, please dispose of garbage properly. Discarded fishing line and nets entangle and kill snowy egrets and coastal birds. These birds are a symbol of wild and healthy wetland ecosystems and with a little help, they will be around for future generations to enjoy.
Snowy Egret Species Profile (PDF)