YARMOUTH - An elegant bird species once hunted for its filmy, curving plumes that fetched astronomical prices in the fashion industry may be nesting in Yarmouth County.
The snowy egret is described as among the most elegant of herons with white plumage, black legs and brilliant yellow feet that have earned it the nickname of golden slippers.
The birds use their feet to stir up or herd small aquatic animals as they forage.
Ervin Olsen, an avid birder and photographer, has seen snowy egrets in an Overton salt marsh on Highway 304 (road to Cape Forchu lighthouse) for several years.
“It’s not uncommon to see them there, it’s just uncommon that they’ve got young ones,” he said.
He’s seen as many of five or six snowy egrets this year in the same location by the Churn Road. He thinks the parents may have nested on Doctors Island in Yarmouth harbour, a popular nesting spot for great blue herons and double-crested cormorants.
Alix Arthur d'Entremont, who (along with Murray Newell) represents Shelburne and Yarmouth counties for the Nova Scotia Bird Society, provided information on the snowy egret.
He says snowy egrets nest regularly up to southern Maine, but appear in Nova Scotia yearly as spring overshoots, during post-breeding dispersal after mid-summer, and as "reverse migrants" in autumn.
“There is only one record of this species nesting in our province. Between 1986 and 1994, up to four pairs spent the summer on Bon Portage Island (Outer Island), Shelburne County, and nesting was confirmed by at least one pair in the late 1980s,” he said.
During spring 2018, up to three snowy egrets were seen in Overton, then a snowy egret was observed twice on Doctors Island in Yarmouth Harbour during summer.
On July 29, two adult snowy egrets were accompanied by two immatures at Overton and then up to six snowy egrets, including at least two immatures, were seen there in August.
D'Entremont says the family group seen in Overton, along with sightings of an adult on Doctor's Island, provides evidence for a successful breeding attempt.
“Next year we should be on the lookout for snowy egrets carrying nesting material or an actual nest that could be found on Doctors Island.
“It‘s important to observe Doctors Island from a distance since it does support healthy colonies of double-crested cormorants and great blue herons that should not be disturbed during spring and summer,” said d’Entremont.
More about the snowy egret from allaboutbirds.org
Male and female snowy egrets take turns incubating their eggs. Both parents continue caring for the young when they hatch.
During the breeding season, adult snowy egrets develop long, wispy feathers on their backs, necks and heads. In 1886 these plumes were valued at $32 per ounce, twice the price of gold at the time.
The oldest snowy egret on record was at least 17 years, seven months old. It was banded in Colorado in 1970 and found in Mexico in 1988.a