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Amateur Birder's Journal

Herons and Egrets — How to tell them apart

Other Pages:   Index of Pages   The Egrets Page   The Herons Page   The Current Journal

A Confusion of Species

ON THIS PAGE   Herons     Egrets     One of each

This page is an introduction to some of the birds I know in Texas

to the herons that I know in Texas, especially in Dallas, Texas, where I live. All egrets are a subspecies of the heron family, so calling a Great Egret, which is white, a "white egret" is correct but perhaps misleading.

Mystery Heron Flying - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. 
			All Rights Reserved.

I originally described this as a Great Blue Heron, but the colors are wrong. A reader insisted it was a Reddish Egret, but those rarely leave the coast; Dallas is far inland. I have since seen and photographed Reddishes along the South Texas Coast, so I can readily tell it's not a Reddish Egret. And now, finally, I've seen a few dozen Little Blues, too, I know what it is. And even if it isn't at all blue, it definitely is a Little Blue Heron.


Great Blue Heron Flying - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Adult Great Blue Heron
 

Great Blue Herons, the smaller Little Blue Heron, the also-medium-sized Tricolored Heron and all three of the much smaller herons — the Black-crowned Night-Heron and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Green Herons are obviously related in shape, plumes and flying form, but the Little Blue, the Green and the Night Herons' necks are shorter and chunkier.
 

Little Blue Heron with Sticks for Its Nest - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.   

Little Blue Heron with Sticks for Its Nest — June 2012

 

Snowy Egret Chases Tricolored Heron Down the Beach - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Snow Egret Chases Tricolored Heron   from June 18 2012
 

Black-crowned Night-Heron - JUne 2012 - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Black-crowned Night-Heron — June 2012

 

Green Heron - Arc Wing - Photograph Copyright 2007 by012  J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Green Heron
 

Snowy Egrets Chasing - Photograph Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Snowy Egrets
 

The shorter-necked, squat, penguin-like birds, including the dark Little Blue Heron, mostly white Snowy Egret, green and red Green Heron, gray and brown and white Black-crowned Night-Heron and yellowish gray and brown Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are physically more alike than different.

The way I usually distinguish among these birds are the colors of their legs, feet, bills and lores (the bill extension back to their eyes) — usually from photographs later. I can never remember all this when I'm watching these birds. I learn behaviors by watching the birds themselves. Identifications I usually learn from studying my photographs later.
 

Heron Ousts Egret - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

A Great (white) Egret chased from its Fishing Spot by a the larger Great Blue Heron.
 

The point of all this confusion is that there is uncertainty about precisely identifying heron and egret species, some of which look a lot like each other even in bright sunlight. But there are a variety of other confusionary conditions. Rising and setting sunlight alters our color perception. The same bird at differing stages of its life look radically different. Because I am so thoroughly confused by their very existence, I will all but ignore the existence of morphs, variants in existing species forms.

When a friend told me last spring that she'd just seen some "white herons" at the spillway, I nodded, knowing that what she'd probably seen were white (the most common color) egrets. Although, if she were an expert birder (I'm certainly not, and I didn't think she was.), she may have been describing a white morph Reddish Egret, a juvenile Little Blue Heron or any of our local four varieties of egret: Cattle, Little, Snowy or Great.

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HERONS

See the Herons Page for more idetails, photographs and much more nformation about herons.
 

Great Blue Heron in Flight - Photograph Copyright 2009 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Great Blue Heron Flying Low
 

Great Blue Herons are gray with black head plumes, yellow bills, long fluffy neck plumes, reddish pants (drumsticks/thighs) and sometimes epaulets and gray legs and feet.
 

Little Blue Wiggle Beaking - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Little Blue Heron Wiggle Beaking Fish - June 12 2006
 

Little Blues are nearly black with blue lores and bills and dark feet and legs. Their young are white with black-tipped wing feathers. See additional Little Blue identification comments at the top and bottom of this page.
 

Black-crowned Night-Heron In Afternoon Sun - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Black-crowned Night Heron Fishing on the Spillway Steps - May 11 2006
 

Black-crowned Night-Heron adults are white fronted, have dark, thick bills, reddish eyes, white crown plumes, a black cap and back, and gray wings.
 

One-Leg Yellow-crown - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Yellow-crown Night-Heron Standing on One Leg - June 13 2006
 

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron adults are gray with white (sometimes appear yellow) swaths and across their faces and on top of their otherwise black heads, with reddish eyes.
 

Standing Green Heron

Grimacing Green Heron
(The grimacing teeth are markings.)
 

Green Herons are much smaller with not much that actually is green but a lot that looks green in the shade, where they like to hang out.

 

Little Blue Herons Aren't Always Blue

Little Blue Heron in Sunset Bay - Copyright 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Little Blue Heron in Sunset Bay - September 11 2008
 

Little Blue Mystery - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

A blue Adult Little Blue Heron
 

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron in Amber Morning
Light = little brown heron
 

I thought I had, but after conferring with genuine experts in bird identification learned that I have never seen a Reddish Egret, and if I haven't seen one, I haven't photographed it, so it's not listed here. Reddish Egrets have obviously reddish necks and heads and hang out on the coast, rarely this far inland. But then that's probably true about Tricolored Herons, too.
 

Juvenile Little Blue Heron - Copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Juvenile Little Blue Heron — White with Black Edges,
Green Legs and Feet and Two-tone Gray Beak
 

Changing Little Blue Heron - Photograph Copyright 2009 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Then there's the transition from them being White Little
Little Blue Herons to them becoming Blue Little Blue Herons.
 

 

Tricolored Heron

Tri-colored Heron - Copyright 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Phhotographed at the SW Med School Rookery in May 2008
I thought it was a Great Blue Heron when I saw it, but
it's definitely the first Tricolor I've ever captured.
 

Tricolored Heron in Flight - Photograph Copyright 2009 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Several Tricolors later, I photographed several on the Texas Gulf Coast: Flying ...
 

Tricolored Heron Walking - Photograph Copyright 2009 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Tricolored Heron Walking in the Marsh in Matagorda, Texas

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EGRETS

See the Egrets Page for much more information.

Great White Egret - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Great Egret
 

Great Egrets are white with long straight yellow bills, black legs and feet.
 

Juvenile Snowy Egret

Juvenile Snowy Egret

Snowy Egrets have black legs, yellow feet, long black bills and yellow lores, with fluffy white head and breast plumes.
 

Cattle Egret Flying

Cattle Egret Flying
 

Cattle Egrets are smaller, stockier, with shorter necks, black legs (except breeding adults, which have red-orange legs and feet) and short, yellow bills. Breeding adult Cattle Egrets have orange crowns, mid-backs, and breasts

Little Egrets are white. Breeding adults have black bills, yellow-orange lores (in mid spring), two long head plumes. Non-breeding adults have stringy breast plumes, dark gray lores and bill, dark upper legs and yellow lower legs with yellow feet. Little Egrets are an Old World species, meaning they're found in Europe, not Texas.
 

Juvenile Little Blue Herons - Copyright 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Juvenile Cattle Egrets - July 08
 

When I came upon this large flock of Cattle and other egrets [as well as herons and cormorants] on an island in an inner-city lake in San Antonio, Texas, I assumed that because of the black shadows under their wings and the proximity of adult Little Blue Herons, they were juvenile Little Blue Herons. But they are not.

I was confused. LBHs have fiddly bits of black on the trailing edges of their wings, greenish legs (not black like these) and two-tone bills of slightly different shape and thickness. Some example of juvenile Little Blue Herons are on The Herons Page.
 

Reddish Egret - Photograph Copyright 2009 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Reddish Egret in the Marshes at Matagorda, Texas

Reddish Egret Landing - Photograph Copyright 2009 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Reddish Egret Landing

Words and photographs copyright 2006 and 2007
by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

I'm not an expert. I'm a photographer
with a fascination for birds.

  

 since of feb 17 08

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