Snowy Egret, Gilbert AZ

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (which oughtta know), great egrets are 37 – 40 inches long, whereas snowy egrets are only 22 – 26 inches.  You might think that size difference would be obvious, even in casual observation.  I certainly thought so, until I casually observed some big white birds.

Standing in/near water and hunched down/over, ready to pounce — as they tend to be — great egrets and snowy egrets can be remarkably difficult to tell apart.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame?
Sort of.

Now, it’s true that one of them has a yellow beak and the other has a yellow and mostly black beak, but somehow that difference never sticks with me. But one thing does stick, courtesy of another birdwatcher: dem golden slippersSnowy egrets have yellow feet.

Of course, with the dawn’s early light leaching all colour from the scene, even the bright yellow of those feet can be remarkably difficult to see.

3-photo collage of snowy egret lurking under bare branches

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    Two questions:
    1. Is one of them scratching under his/her chin? (Do egrets have chins?)
    2. How do they avoid impaling themselves on those thorns? (shades of The Thornbirds.)
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – It’s all one bird. And yes, in one shot, it has its leg/foot lifted and looked to me to be scratching under its beak. As for the thorns, I don’t know. There are birds native to the desert that nest in cacti and have no trouble – not from predators and not from the cactus! But escaped exotics (like lovebirds) can get themselves into oodles of trouble, apparently. Their instincts are not tuned for this environment.

  2. Something about the feathers that fluff in the breeze like snow swirled into the air makes their name memorable. Their legs and beaks are remarkably camouflaged among these thorny vines. Your distance from them seems almost predatory but I suppose your lens has that effect. How approachable are they?

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – As a general rule, I’d say “not very approachable.” One of the common experiences with all cranes and herons is accidentally flushing hidden or unnoticed birds while walking or kayaking. They seem to want to keep their distance – many tens of feet. In this specific location, I’ve had some close encounters with a snowy egret who seemed indifferent to my presence while he/she was hunting. At one point it came within about 5 feet of me. Remarkable. So it’s possible that the birds that frequent this artificial wetlands area become more habituated to a human presence, with all the walkers and photographers.

  3. Thank you for bringing me into the picture, so to speak. We started our marriage in the Florida wilderness east or north of Gainesville, Florida, which is one of the very populated areas for wintering birds, not to mention the native species. We loved the proximity of the birds. Not so much the alligators, snakes, and fire ants! But we were not there long enough to become as well acquainted as your photos and comments allow me to be. Grateful thanks.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – I hear people speak dismissively of Florida as “a swamp” – and indeed, much of it is low country and wetlands. As you note, that can be pretty amazing for birds, both resident populations and migrants. And many of them are *big* birds, much easier to see and to photograph than their small, flitty brethren.

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