Photo: Snowy egret's breeding beauty was once nearly its doom

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Our photo of the day is a lesson in conservation.

This stunning photo by Christine shows a snowy egret wearing its fabulous breeding suit – a fuchsia mask and exuberant wispy plumes that could put a peacock to shame. What a vision!

But it is these incredible plumes of breeding season that almost led to the end of this spectacular species. In bygone eras, the fashion industry couldn't get enough of them. In typical Victorian exuberance, hats were festooned with the dramatic plumes of snowy egrets and other birds. By 1900, more than five million birds a year were being killed; almost 95 percent of Florida's shore birds had been killed by plume hunters. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes:

During the breeding season, adult Snowy Egrets develop long, wispy feathers on their backs, necks, and heads. In 1886 these plumes were valued at $32 per ounce, which was twice the price of gold at the time. Plume-hunting for the fashion industry killed many Snowy Egrets and other birds until reforms were passed in the early twentieth century.

Thankfully, concerned citizens and some politicians banded together and helped save the species; now populations are healthy again, and that early triumph that gave rise to the conservation movement has helped save so many other species as well.

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