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The snowy egret is a wading bird of the heron family native to North America. As its name suggests, the snowy egret has all-white plumage and is notable for the wispy crest mature adults develop during the breeding season. Like other birds of the heron family, the snowy egret has a long neck and legs, and a long narrow bill adapted to hunting for food in shallow water. It is found in wetlands and marshes of the southeastern United States, the Caribbean islands, and Central America. During the summer, its range expands to marshlands further north and west.
The adult snowy egret has a black bill, slender black legs, yellow feet, and wispy white plumage at the front of the neck. Adults of breeding age also have a yellow lore, which is the space between the eyes of the bird and the bill. The bird changes outwardly during the breeding season. During this time, adults develop shaggy plumes along the top and back of the head, and the feet and lores turn red. When immature, it is distinguished by a narrower bill and a green tinge at the back of the legs.
While not uncommonly large for the heron family, the snowy egret is a fairly big bird. It can be 2 feet long (61 cm) and have a wingspan of 3.3 feet (102 cm). In flight it extends its long legs nearly straight back.
Birds of the heron family use their skinny legs to quietly stalk prey in shallow waters, and the snowy egret is no exception. It may also use its wings and feet to flush out prey. The snowy egret is wholly carnivorous, and feeds on fish, small crustaceans, frogs, snakes, and insects. Unlike most other herons, the snowy egret also hunts from the air by lowering its bill below the surface of the water while in flight. The snowy egret can make its nest over water or land, and usually produces three to five eggs during the summer months. The bird can live up to twenty years.
The snowy egret can be somewhat difficult to tell apart from other white egrets that have overlapping habitats. They can be mistaken for immature little blue herons, but the latter have dark wing tips and a two-color bill. Snowy egrets are smaller in size than the nearly all-white great egret, which has a yellow bill, black feet, and long wispy plumage that trails from the back during breeding season.