They are found in the habitats that suit them throughout North America, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Small populations are now also found in Southern Canada in Nova Scotia during breeding season. They migrate south in winter.
They live in shallow waterways in coastal regions, like salt marshes, mud flats, tidal channels and mangroves. They can be found inland in freshwater swamps, ponds, lakes, wet meadows, and river estuaries. In the winter, they migrate south to roost in warm mangroves.
They are all white with a long, slender neck. Their long, thin beak is black with a bright yellow edge below their yellow eyes (this area between the eyes and beak is called the lores). They also have long, black legs with bright yellow feet. They reach about 2 feet tall (60cm) and weigh less than a pound. They are not the largest of the egrets and have a small, graceful form. Females are smaller than males.
They are active early in the morning and again in the evening (crepuscular), standing tall on rocks, mangrove roots or wading in shallow water. During the heat of the day and at night, they roost in the trees. They are often in the company of other birds while feeding and build their nests near other herons in loose colonies (or rookeries). They forage for food in shallow water by walking along to stir up prey. They have adapted to and live with some of the development of coastal areas, but will disappear if areas become too polluted or fished out.
They eat small animals – mostly fish, but also crayfish, crabs, shrimp, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, worms, and insects.
Their predators may include owls, hawks, alligators, crows, raccoons and snakes.
Males attract females with a courtship dance that includes pointing their sharp beak straight up in the air, bobbing up and down and calling. During the breeding season, their yellow feet turn orange and long, white feather plumes come off their breasts. Mated pairs stay together throughout the breeding season and build a nest of sticks on the ground or high up in the trees near other nesting egrets in loose colonies. Females lay up to 6 eggs per clutch and both parents take turns warming the eggs (incubation). Chicks hatch in about 3.5 weeks and can fly (fledge) in about two weeks. Both parents feed the hatchlings.
They can live more than 15 years in the wild, but 3 out of 4 hatchlings do not survive their first year. They are listed at Least Concern on the ISCN Red list.
Species: E. thula
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