A congregation of egrets has many collective names including skewer, siege, sedge, wedge, and congregation. I like the names siege and congregation and the above photo shows a siege of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets preening after a day of fishing at the Jones River Salt Marsh.
The Great Egret doing the happy dance was fishing with a group of mixed herons and egrets when he began to leap about and flourish his wings. I couldn’t tell why from the distance I was shooting until returning to my office to look at the photos and saw he had a minnow in his mouth. What a show-off!
Don’t mess with these bad boys!
In no uncertain terms
Tussles over turf pop up regularly between the egrets and herons feeding in the marsh. They often conglomerate in one small area to fish for minnows, occasionally steeling a catch from one another, and there is always one who seems to be the big kahuna of the marsh.
Often asked this question, I thought it would be helpful to post the answer again, especially 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.
The magnificent Great Egret was very nearly hunted to extinction during the “Plume Bloom” of the early 20th century. Startling, cumbersome, and hideous, hats were fashioned with every manner of beautiful bird feather. Europeans were partial to exotic birds that were hunted the world over and they included hummingbirds, toucans, birds of paradise, the condor, and emu. The American milinery trade favored herons for their natural abundance. The atrocities committed by the murderous millinery led to the formation of the first Audubon and conservation societies however, what truly led to saving the birds from extinction was the boyish bob and other short hairstyles introduced in about 1913. The short cuts could not support the hat extravaganzas, which led to the popularity of the cloche and the demise of the plume-hunters.
A quick and easy reference on how 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.
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 in the foreground.
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
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 very 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.
How do you tell the difference quickly between a Great Egret and Snowy Egret? If you saw the two species side-by-side it would be easy as the Great Egret is nearly a third as large as the Snowy Egret. I don’t often see them together so the easiest way for me to tell them apart is to remember that the smaller Snowy Egret has brilliant cadmium yellow feet and a black bill. The Great Egret has black feet and a yellow-orange bill.