Framed by greenery, this Snowy Egret is performing a nuptial display with specialized breeding plumes acquired at the onset of spring breeding season. In addition, the characteristic yellow feet and lores (the fleshy area between the eyes and bill) have become pink. Males begin building a nest that the attracted female finishes.
The beautiful aigrettes, the height of fashion for ladies millinery from 1885-1905 sold for twice the value of gold at that time! Plume hunters shot breeding adults, assuring the death of all nestlings and the abandonment of eggs, decimating the wading bird populations. Such indiscriminate shooting convinced Theodore Roosevelt to establish Pelican Island as the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903. Concerned citizens had Congress pass the Migratory Bird Treaty Act criminalizing the slaughter of birds. The law remains effective to this day. Although these birds rebounded, recent declines remind us they will always be vulnerable to decreasing wetlands, impacts on the small fish on which they and their nestlings feed, and unfavorable hydrology schemes that do not mimic natural water level fluctuations.
So look for the medium-sized white heron with black bill and legs using its “golden slippers” to stir up a meal…and enjoy one of our graceful Florida birds.
PIAS Photo of the Month Coordinator