Egretta thula thula

Status:  Uncommon regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Uncommon regular summer visitor central, rare elsewhere. Accidental breeder Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co.

Documentation: Photograph: Jun 1965 Crescent Lake NWR (Roger Sharpe, pers. comm.)

Taxonomy: Two subspecies are often recognized (AOU 1957, Gill and Donsker 2017), brewsteri of the Rocky Mountains westward and thula of the rest of North America. Pyle (2008) considers the species monotypic and brewsteri too poorly-differentiated to justify subspecific status. Subspecies thula occurs in Nebraska.

Spring:  Apr 8, 9, 9 <<<>>> summer

Earlier dates are 29 Mar 1992 Lancaster Co, 31 Mar 2017 Lancaster Co, and 6 Apr 2011 Lancaster Co.

Reports are distributed rather evenly from mid-Apr through mid-May. Interestingly, during the first 30 years of NOU record-keeping (1933-1963), nine of 12 total reports were from locations west of the 100th meridian, but during the second 30 years (1963-1993) only 17 of 54 records were from the west. The western reports may represent individuals associated with scattered breeding populations in southeastern Wyoming (Scott 1993) and northeastern Colorado where it was recorded nesting as early as 1937 (Andrews and Righter 1992).  The increased frequency of spring sightings in eastern Nebraska since the 1970s is probably related to a population expansion northward on the Great Plains; prior to 1978 the Snowy Egret was considered a “rare post-season visitant” in South Dakota (Whitney et al 1978), but since the 1980s it has established breeding colonies at several eastern South Dakota locations (Tallman et al 2002) and mainly since the 1970s in Kansas (Thompson et al 2011).

  • High counts: 28 in Hall Co 10 May 2003, 8 in Lancaster Co 3 May 2014, 5 at Swanson Reservoir, Hitchcock Co 28 Apr 2001, 5 at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 5 May 2015, 5 at Fuchtman Playa, Antelope Co 25 May 2018, and 5 at LaPlatte Bottoms, Sarpy Co 21 May 2020.

Summer: The only confirmed record of breeding is of a flightless juvenile photographed at Crescent Lake NWR Jun 1989 (NGPC; Mollhoff 2008).

Other reports of possible breeding include a report of two adults that had been seen “repeatedly in the area during the early summer” with “an immature young” in Hall Co 26 Jun 1985 (Mollhoff 2001, 2008). We do not consider this report supportive evidence for nesting. Immature Snowy Egrets may arrive early as northward dispersers from southern breeding areas (below).  There are two additional nesting reports, for Lancaster Co 1895 and Scottsbluff Co about 1900, the former in error and the latter without documentation. The Lancaster Co report (Eiche 1901) involved a female purportedly shot from a nest at Lincoln in Jun and placed in the Eiche collection (Bruner et al 1904); the Eiche specimens were included in the UNSM collection, where there is an immature (white) Little Blue Heron (ZM14585) also “said to be shot from a nest” (UNSM data) in Lincoln Jun 1895. Thus, the specimen appears to have been originally misidentified and the nesting report of Snowy Egret is thus in error.  No details have been published for a report of nesting in Scotts Bluff Co about 1900 (Bent 1926). This species breeds in mixed-species colonies in Kansas (Thompson et al 2011) and South Dakota (Tallman et al 2002).

Summer visitors occur in appropriate habitat statewide; sightings are fewest in late Jun and early Jul, although a total of 18 were reported Jun-Jul 2011, all in central Nebraska. Summer visitors sometimes remain in a location with suitable breeding habitat for up to several weeks, suggestive of potential breeding attempts.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Oct 15, 15, 16

Later dates are 22 Oct 2009 Lincoln Co, 22 Oct 2016 Lancaster Co, 26 Oct 2018 Harlan Co, 30 Oct 1987 Douglas-Sarpy Cos, 3 Nov 2018 Washington Co, and a “very, very late” bird roosting with gulls in a gale at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 6 Nov 1976 (Rosche 1994).

  • High counts: 61 in Fillmore Co 5 Oct 2006, 30 at Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co Aug 1988 (Grzybowski 1989), and 29 at Funk WPA, Phelps Co 19 Aug 1998.

Comments: Three specimens listed by Swenk (Notes Before 1925) were at one time in the Brooking collection but apparently are no longer extant. One of these, collected 2 Jun 1911 near Gibbon, was HMM 2682 and said to be photographed by Swenk, but neither it nor the photograph could be located.


HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum
NGPC: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
NOU: Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)

Literature Cited

Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds.  Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado, USA.

American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1957. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 5th ed. Port City Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Bent, A.C. 1926. Life histories of North American marsh birds. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 135. Dover Publications Reprint 1963. New York, USA.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Eiche, A. 1901. Breeding of the Snowy Heron and Swallow-tailed Kite. Proceedings of Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union 2: 96.

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1989. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 43: 124-126.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2008. The 2007 Nebraska nest report. NBR 76: 155-165.

Pyle, P. 2008. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part II, Anatidae to Alcidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Scott, O.K. 1993. A birder’s guide to Wyoming. American Birding Association, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.

Swenk, M.H. Notes before 1925. Bird notes from A.M. Brooking of Hastings, C.A. Black of Kearney, and B.J. Olson of Kearney, based chiefly on their collections, up to January 1, 1925. Typed manuscript in the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Archives, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Tallman, D.A., Swanson, D.L., and J.S. Palmer. 2002. Birds of South Dakota. Midstates/Quality Quick Print, Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA.

Thompson, M.C., C.A. Ely, B. Gress, C. Otte, S.T. Patti, D. Seibel, and E.A. Young. 2011. Birds of Kansas.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Whitney, N.R., Jr., B.E. Harrell, B.K. Harris, N. Holden, J.W. Johnson, B.J. Rose, and P.F. Springer. 1978. The Birds of South Dakota, an annotated checklist. South Dakota Ornithologists’ Union, Vermillion, South Dakota, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Snowy Egret (Egretta thula thula). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 31 Dec 2020