Sunday, September 11, 2016

Snowy Egret at CSU Stanislaus

This particular snowy egret (Egretta thula) seems to have taken up permanent residence at CSU Stanislaus, dividing his (or her) time between two ponds : Willow Lake, near the science buildings, and Warrior Lake, near the Faculty Development Center.  Both of these ponds have a portion of their shores planted with reedy grasses or cattails, which provide some measure of "natural-feeling" habitat for egrets (and herons too).  The ponds both contain at least two or three types of fish (I haven't done a full survey of all the fish species present!), introduced red-eared slider turtles, and crayfish, among other aquatic creatures, I'm sure.
Snowy egret (Egretta thula), showing slender black bill and yellow lores (area between the bill and eyes on each
side of the head) characteristic of this species.  The lores will briefly turn red at the height of the breeding season.
The diet of snowy egrets consists primarily of fish and small aquatic animals, such as frogs, crustaceans and insects, which they spear with their bills.  Snowy egrets are commonly associated with shallow coastal wetlands, though they are quite at home here in the Central Valley year-round.  Like other herons and egrets (family Ardeidae), these birds nest colonially, though I've only ever seen one snowy egret at a time on campus.
Showing the once-coveted breeding plumes, as well as characteristic yellow feet. 
The similar but considerably larger great egret (Ardea alba) has a yellow bill and black feet. 
Always look for the snowy's yellow shoes!
 In the late 1800's and early 1900's, the soft, billowy plumes of feathers which egrets grow during the breeding season became all the rage for decorating ladies' hats, and the value of these feathers temporarily surpassed that of gold.  Consequently, plume-hunters sought the birds, killing them for their feathers, and the population of snowy egrets declined drastically.  Only through the work of conservationists has the species recovered.  These early efforts to save the snowy egret paved the way for the conservation movement as we know it today.
Another look at the lovely breeding plumage (though this photo was taken in September, toward
the end of the breeding season).

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