WHAT IS IT?
This billowing puff of spindrift in a Florida treetop is an aptly named snowy egret in breeding plumage. In the 19th century, the birds’ quivering, shimmering courtship displays attracted more than potential mates. Back then, they were slaughtered in huge numbers for the long, wispy feathers adorning their heads, necks and backs. In 1886, these plumes fetched $32 per ounce – twice the price of gold at the time. But the species has since bounced back and is now more common and widespread than ever. There is a delicate grace to its behaviour, too. Pairs take turns to incubate the eggs and the incoming bird marks the changeover by presenting its partner with a symbolic twig.
Finest feathers: the snowy egret.