BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Q&a - Stu­art Black­man

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.

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