Gone Outdoors

How to Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Snowy Egret

by John Lindell

The snowy egret is a type of heron; it has made a comeback from the verge of extinction in the United States. Its beautiful white feathers drew hunters who killed the bird for the white plumes. Laws protecting the snowy egret have enabled its population to increase to its former levels. The two sexes have very little physical differences, so telling a male apart from a female is difficult at best. With some good fortune, you may observe certain behaviors of these birds that can help you recognize the male snowy egret from the female.

Observe the springtime courtship rituals of the males to help you identify them from the female snowy egrets. The males will choose a nesting area and then begin to make loud calls to attract a female egret. The male will engage in a behavior that the Audubon website describes as a "stretch," in which the bird moves its body up and down while keeping its bill directed upward. The male will also fly in circles and raise the plumes on its back and head.

Use the behavior of the female egret to recognize them from the males of the species. Both parents will take turns hatching the eggs, so finding one on its nest will not help you in sex identification. However, the female is the one that normally will build the nest. The female weaves a nest out of twigs and sticks, with the nest as high as 30 feet up in a tree or built on the ground.

Find snowy egrets by going to their habitat. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection website states that snowy egrets frequent ponds, lakes, swamps, marshy areas, tidal flats near the ocean and shallow coastal waters. The bird breeds in colonies, often near estuaries.

Look for a mid-sized wading bird with long black legs and yellow feet. Males and females will have the same markings. The snowy egret has a long neck, a thin black bill and all-white plumage. The bird has a yellow patch near the front of the eyes that during the breeding season turns red. The adults develop long attractive plumes of white on the back, neck and head during the breeding season.

Estimate the size of the snowy egrets you see. The males are slightly larger than the females, but this is not so noticeable that you will necessarily tell the sexes apart in this manner. The typical adult snowy egret has a length between 20 inches and 27 inches, with a wingspan of around 41 inches.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.

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