Often asked this question, I thought it would be helpful to post the answer again, especially as at this time of year when we see numerous numbers foraging in our marshes and along the shore. Both species of birds breed on Cape Ann and the coast of Massachusetts.
The first clue is size. Snowy Egrets are small, about the size of the Mallard Duck. Remember the letter S for small and snowy. Great Egrets are much larger, nearly identical in size to that of the Great Blue Heron.
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Great Egrets have black feet and yellow bills. Snowy Egrets have reverse coloring, yellow feet and black bills.
Great Egrets stand very still while fishing. Snowy Egrets are wonderfully animated when foraging; they run quickly, walk determinedly, fly, and swish their feet around to stir up fish.
It’s not often that a wild bird permits such a close encounter. The Snowy Egret was drinking, feeding, and bathing at the pond edge. At one point a noisy family appeared and began throwing stones into the water. All the Mallards swam toward the far end of the pond and the egret retreated up into the trees. As soon as the family departed, the ducks and Snowy returned to the beach, resuming business as usual.
Snowy Egrets forage on mostly aquatic animals including frogs, fish, crustaceans, worms, and insects. The vivid yellow feet are often used to probe in the mud for prey.
Running back and forth along the shoreline while hunting, several times plunging in and becoming completely submerged.
During breeding season the Snowy Egret develops beautiful wispy curving plumes on its head and back. A great deal of time was spent smoothing and arranging its feathers.
Slender and elegant, the Snowy appeared smaller than a duck when its neck was tucked in.
Spiraling to dry its feathers.
Andrea writes, “OK , because of where I work — Gloucester — and amazing bird photos posted by friends — that would be you Kimberley Caruso and Kim Smith — I find myself stopping to shoot shorebirds with a camera. Spotted Thursday morning at Grant Circle, a glossy ibis and two snowy egrets. Not great photos but I had never seen a glossy ibis before!”
Thank you so much Andrea for sharing your photos of the stunning Glossy Ibis. It’s breeding range in the Western Hemisphere is quite narrow and I would love, love to capture this species on film. Keeping my eyes peeled thanks to you!
From the Mass Audubon website, “In Ancient Egypt, ibises were venerated as sacred birds. They were believed to have a connection to the deity Thoth, the wise scribe and lorekeeper of the Egyptian pantheon. While Glossy Ibises are not literate, they are marvelous travelers. The Western Hemisphere population of this species represents a fairly recent arrival to the New World, believed to be descendants of birds who flew from Africa to South America in the early nineteenth century (Davis & Kricher 2000). Read More Here
For the Chief, and anyone who wants a quick and easy reference on how to tell the difference between the Snowy and Great Egrets, both white and both often times found feeding in the marsh and tide pools together. The Great Egret is greater in size and has a bright yellow bill, with black legs and black feet. The smaller Snowy Egret has the opposite markings, with unmistakeable cadmium yellow feet and a black bill.
Snowy Egret and Great Egret
In the above photo taken this morning, the egrets were too far away for my camera’s lens to get a really clear picture however, when cropped, you can see a side-by-side comparison. The Snowy Egret, with black bill and bright yellow feet, is flying in the background and the Great Egret, with black feet and yellow bill, is perched.
Great Egret Lobster Cove
More posts about Great Egret and Snowy Egrets:
BIRDS OF CAPE ANN: GREAT EGRET VS. GREAT EGRET
BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR FOGGY MORNING SUNRISE, SNOWY EGRET, AND WHIMBRELS
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
On a gorgeous dawn this past season I filmed an epic battle between two, possibly three, Great Egrets at the Good Harbor Beach marsh. The battle lasted nearly ten minutes with the defending egret aggressively flying lower and beneath the intruder, preventing it from landing anywhere on the marsh.
Great Egrets have interesting breeding behavior in that the male selects the nesting site and builds a platform nest of sticks and twigs in a tree, shrub, or on the ground near a marsh, prior to selecting a mate. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks, and both male and female vigorously defend the nesting territory. Perhaps that is what I had observed, a male and/or female defending their nesting site.
The Good Harbor Beach victor first surveyed the marsh from his perch on the adjacent cottage and, after determining his foe was defeated, swooped to the tide pool below to feed peaceably alonsgide the Great Blue Heron.
Great Blue Heron and Great Egret
Read More Here: Read more
The sunrise in the lifting fog at Good Harbor Beach this morning looked at times more like a moonrise.
A lone Snowy Egret was eating and fluffing its feathers and a pair of Whimbrels (at least I think they were Whimbrels) were fishing and bathing along the tide pool edges.
Good Harbor Beach Gloucester