Friday, 22 October 2010

Snowy egrets

Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) are small herons found throughout the Americas, from the Great Lakes to Argentina. The first problem is to distinguish them from the very similar Great and Cattle egrets. Seen as photos they look almost identical, but Snowy egrets have black bills and legs with yellow feet whilst Cattle egrets have yellow bills and grey legs. It's also a question of habitat as Cattle egrets follow cattle in pasture, snapping up disturbed invertebrates, whilst Snowys feed by water. Great egrets also feed in water, but they are quite a lot bigger, up to a metre in height as well as having yellow bills.

A Snowy egret in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, ES, Brazil

Snowys are fairly sociable and will commonly flock with other "heron types" throughout their range. In the Mata Atlantica, for example, they can be found with Little Blue herons, and Great egrets as well as others. Although the group may appear to all mixed together they're probably after different foods - a study in mangrove swamps found Snowys to mainly eat shrimps and guppies while Little Blues ate crabs. Having said that, predation of fish farms in the US is equally effective by both! Snowys and Greats separate by depth, Snowys sticking to shallow water - they hate swimming! When they were observed swimming in a pond in Florida, apparently tempted by lots of prey fish, it made the wildlife press.

A Snowy egret and Little Blue heron

They hunt by plodding around in shallow water, catching whatever moves, though as mentioned above they will raid fish farms given half a chance. At night they roost in colonies with other herons on wooden platforms built in the tree tops. Snowys used to be quite endangered from hunters after their feathers for hats, but nowadays they are protected and flourishing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cachoeiro do Itapemirim can be very interesting.