It was just a puddle for us humans, an obstacle to detour on our way past the porta-potties on the south side of the park. For this Snowy Egret it was a food-rich habitat. With just a bit of effort this smaller relative of the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron snatched up some drowned earthworms and other bits of protein and made a meal of them. The bird ignored walkers and joggers passing within a few feet, and gave this photographer a vantage point for unusual close-ups. Eventually it flew off, roosting high up in one of the tall cedars that border the hotel.
Snowy Egrets are egalitarian parents, taking turns sitting on the eggs and feeding the young ones after they hatch. Sometimes adult Snowy Egrets interbreed with other heron species such as Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Cattle Egrets. The offspring are hybrids with some characteristics of each parent — a challenge to birders. However, these other species are rarely if ever found in California, so identifying heron hybrids is not high on our headache list.
These egrets and their relatives were hunted close to extinction in the late 1800s for their feathers, which sold for more than gold of the same weight. The campaigns to save them were among the earliest bird conservation movements in this country and gave rise to later and broader bird conservation efforts.