In the early 1900s, the great egret’s snowy-white plumage was in high demand to adorn women’s hats and other fashions. As a result, North American populations were decimated by feather hunting – some groups by 95 percent. But over the last century, great egrets have been under legal protection and their populations are recovering. According to the National Audubon Society, great egrets have a global population of over 1 million individuals.
Great egrets – also called the great white egret and great white heron – are migratory birds with a wide distribution and, at present, the IUCN Red List categorizes the great egret as ‘least concern.’ While the great egret species is no longer suffering from the intense hunting for the plume trade, other threats exist. These water birds are vulnerable to wetland habitat loss, climate change and exotic plant invasion.
At the beginning of the breeding season, the great egret grows showy feathers (called aigrettes) that they raise and fan during courtship rituals. The hue of their bills brighten from yellow to an orange-yellow shade, and the skin near their eyes turns a light green.
One of the largest of the heron species, the great egret grows to about three feet in height and has a wingspan of over four feet. Its a slender, long-legged bird with a characteristic S-shaped neck. Great egrets slowly stalk their prey – such as frogs, insects, small mammals and fish – by hunting in shallow wetlands.
Photo Credits: Jodi Kendall