There are about 12 members of the family Ardeidae; birds we know as Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns, that are found in North America. For the most part, if it is white, it is an Egret. But, there are exceptions. There is a Reddish Egret that has a rusty brown head and neck with a gray body; they live mostly along the Gulf Coast as well as Florida’s Atlantic Coast. There is a white morph of the Great Blue Heron and is difficult to distinguish from an Egret. What I see mostly are the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret. Occasionally I see Cattle Egrets. In this post, I also included a Little Egret. Its range is mostly, Europe, Africa and Asia but sometimes visits the east coast of the North America.
The Great Egret is a big guy. He has black legs and a yellow bill. The Snowy Egret is substantially smaller; it has a black bill with black legs and yellow-green colored feet. The Little Egret looks a lot like the snowy but the eye mask is a bit different color. The breeding male Cattle Egret has a brown head with a brown patch at the base of its neck and breast, and has some red on its legs. Otherwise, they are all white.
Most egrets forage along water like lakes and rivers and even irrigation ditches, looking for insects, small invertebrates, and small fish. The Cattle Egret forages in meadows and pasturelands.
By the way, I often try to give a simple explanation to help you recognize a bird. Mostly it has to do with coloration. But, coloration can vary between males and females and male coloration is often different during breeding season than at other times of the year. Juveniles are often colored differently. Color can also vary by region. My tips will get you in the ballpark but don’t get frustrated if things don’t look quite right. I get confused all the time and must search the books to be sure.
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