It’s cold, gray, and rainy here at the marsh! What is the best marsh creature to talk about during the holidays? Why, snowy egret, of course!

Snowy egrets are one of the many species of heron that spends at least part of the year in marshes throughout the James River Watershed. With their beautiful white plumage and striking yellow feet, these birds can be found stalking small fish and invertebrates in both fresh and salt marshes. During December, they are frequently solitary. But during the breeding season, they may be found nesting in large colonies called “rookeries.” Dozens of parents can be observed building flimsy nests made of sticks where their chicks will spend the first couple weeks of life. They then fledge and it is their turn to explore the marsh!

The snowy egret population was not always as healthy as it is now, however. In the late nineteenth century, they were subjected to industrial hunting for the striking plumes they grow during breeding season. These were used as decoration in women’s hats. During the twentieth century, chemicals dumped into the James River such as DDT and kepone also leading to huge crashes in their numbers.

Thankfully the efforts of conservation groups have lead to improved habitat and snowy egrets may be found throughout the James River Watershed. Would you like to see snowy egrets and other denizens of our wonderful marshes in person? Please join the James River Association on our “Connect with the James” paddles or other exciting programs! Registration for the spring will open soon.