Sunday, February 22, 2009

Heron and Egret Identification: A Closer Look at White Plumaged Wading Birds

White plumaged waders include Great White Heron (white morph of Great Blue), Great Egret, Snowy Egret, white morph Reddish Egret, juvenile Little Blue Heron, and Cattle Egret. This is a much more detailed account of identification of white wading birds than my last ID post.

Cattle Egret

This species is very easy to tell apart from March-July when it is in breeding plumage. When this egret is in its breeding plumage it has orange on its crest, back and breast. No other egret or heron will ever show this trait. The adult in nonbreeding plumage should be easily seperable from the other egrets and herons by the combination of stocky orange-yellow bill and short black legs. The juvenile looks like the adult nonbreeding but instead of an orange-yellow bill it has a black bill. This species should always be seperable from other herons and egrets by its short, stocky appearance.

White Morph Reddish Egret

The adult Reddish Egret is easily distinguished by the pink based, black tipped bill. Its larger size relative to Snowies and Little Blues is also easily recognized. The combination of all dark to mostly dark bills and blue-gray legs distinguishes the young Reddish Egret from other species.

This is an adult dark morph Reddish Egret. The dark morph is much more common than the white morph.

Great Egret vs. Great White Heron

Great White Herons only need to be considered in an identification in southern Florida. When in southern Florida the combination of pale yellow legs and big yellow bill with grayish lores distinguishes the Great White Heron. The Great Egret has a small bill relative to the Great White and has black legs unlike the Great White.

Juvenile Little Blue Heron and Juvenile Snowy Egret

Both of these species have a pale bill tipped with black. The Snowy has a pale yellow bill that matches the color of its legs. The Little Blue has a grayish blue bill. Notice that the Snowy has the same colored bill and legs. The Snowy also has a much more dagger like bill while the Little Blue has a shorter stumpier bill (no where near as stout as the Cattle Egrets bill though)

This is an adult Little Blue Heron. Notice the straw colored legs and bicolored bill (similar color as in the juvenile).


One helpful tip on all identifications (not just the birds mentioned above) is to use what you can. Most people do not think that comparisons are possible on single birds. Instead of comparing a bird to a separte bird compare colors, pattern, dimensions, etc. on a bird to the rest of the bird.


Anonymous said...

Amazing shots. Hmmm... maybe I should carry my tripod. :-) The clarity is awesome.

Anonymous said...

The bottom photo is of a reddish egret, but the caption says little blue heron. Link error?

Great photos!

Rob Ripma said...

No error on the identification. That is an adult Little Blue Heron on the bottom.