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Snowy Egret - Killer Hats

Outraged citizens end the slaughter
© Stan Hope View Large

Today you’ll find Snowy Egrets in the south and central United States and in remnant wetlands along the Atlantic coast. But once, they were rare. During the late 1800s, millions of birds – including Snowy Egrets – were killed annually to adorn the hats of fashionable ladies. Outraged citizens took action, forming the Audubon movement and passing laws that reduced the slaughter.

Today’s show brought to you by the Lufkin Family Foundation.

Full Transcript



Snowy Egret – “Killer Hats”

Written by Chris Peterson

This is BirdNote!

 [Call of the Snowy Egret, with background of Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia]

The beauty of the small, slender Snowy Egret is in its fine white feathers and long, lacy plumes. Today, you’ll find Snowy Egrets wading in open waters in the south and central United States and in remnant wetlands along the Atlantic coast, but once, they were rare.

Here’s why: During the late 1800s, five million birds a year, including Snowy Egrets, were killed so their feathers (and sometimes even the whole bird) could adorn the hats of fashionable ladies in Europe and America. In 1886, plumes of the Snowy Egret were valued at twice the per-ounce price of gold. (1)

That same year, Frank Chapman, the leading ornithologist of the day, took a walk down 14th Street in New York City to confirm the pervasiveness of feather fashion. [Ambient urban city, 1880s] In a few hours, on the hats of passing women, he counted forty species of birds including robins, warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Blue Jays, Common Terns, Bobwhites, and grebes. (2)

The plundering for plumes that began about 1880, peaked in 1903, and continued until 1910, when outraged citizens forced the passage of laws that reduced the slaughter. (3) [The Snowy Egret played a prominent role in the rise of the Audubon Society.]

“Killer hats” would become a thing of the past. 

 [Call of the Snowy Egret but heavy on swamp ambient]

Today’s show brought to you by the Lufkin Family Foundation. We’re 


Call of the Snowy Egret and Okefenokee Swamp provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Snowy Egrets [59443-2] recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; Swamp by T. Wiewandt.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2014 Tune In to   September 2014   Narrator: Michael Stein


(1) and (3) Birds of North America

 Authors K.C. Parsons and T.L. Master Price of gold 1886, Allen 1974.

(2)Permission granted to draw from the text “Killer Hats” panel 2 Historical Fashion, Killer Hats 4.0, Rev 5-12-05, v 5.5 RJB 5/31/05. 

Origin of Audubon Society, Frank Chapman, waterbird protection, Lacey Act:

Sights & Sounds

Related field notes: