The Snowy Egret and Great Egret of Florida
By Trish Elliot
Florida abounds with gorgeous, exotic birds, boasting of over 500 species, and is one of the most famous birdwatching destinations in the world. Some of the best sightings in Florida can be found in the St. Augustine area.
St. Augustine Ecotours have informative and fascinating birdwatching experiences, because their guides are interpretive naturalists, the owner, Zach McKenna, is a known expert of area habitats. All the boat captains of this excellent company are also USCG Licensed, ensuring a safe boat or kayak tour.
St. Augustine tours provide an experience not only to learn about these stunning birds, but also to take some breath-taking photos.
Below are some fun facts about two of the four kinds of egrets found in Florida: the Snowy Egret, and the Great Egret.
The Snowy Egret
Snowy Egrets have a slim black bill and long black legs with yellow feet. The area of the upper bill, in front of the eyes, is usually yellow but turns red during the breeding season. During the mating season the the adults also gain recurved plumes on the back, giving them their famous for a “shaggy” effect. The young Snow Egret has a bill that is paler, and a green or yellow line that runs down the back of their legs.
They stalk prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet, flushing prey into view, as well “dip-fishing” by flying with their feet just over the water, and eat insects, small fish, and small reptiles. Snowy Egrets may also stand still and wait to ambush prey.
At one time, the beautiful plumes of the Snowy Egret were in great demand as decorations for women’s hats. This reduced the population of the species to dangerously low levels.
The Great Egret
The Great Egret is actually a large heron, boasting all-white plumage. It can stand up to over three feet tall, it can have a wingspan of up
to 52 to 67 inches, making it only slightly smaller than the Great Blur or Grey Heron. It has a yellow bill and black legs, and during breeding season has delicate, ornamental feathers on the back. Males and females are identical in appearance.
It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted, which makes it an easy mark for hunters, and has a very loud croaking sound. The Great Egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, feeding mainly on frogs, insects, small mammals and occasionally small reptiles and insects. It spears its prey with its long, sharp bill most of the time by standing still and allowing the prey to come within its striking distance. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.
The other two kinds of egrets found in Florida are the cattle egret and the reddish egret, among the hundreds of other kinds of birds in the area.
In addition to its bird-watching tours, St. Augustine Ecotours also has beachcombing tours, team-building events, kayak and custom tours, focusing on the kind of mammals, reptiles, and birds that inhabit the lush marshes and waters near historic St. Augustine.