What is the difference between a great white heron and a Great Egret?

Answered by Jason Smith

Well, I’ve had the opportunity to observe both great white herons and great egrets in the wild, and let me tell you, they may look similar at first glance, but there are definitely some key differences between the two.

First off, let’s talk about their size. Great egrets are actually a little smaller than white-phase great blue herons. While both birds can reach impressive heights, with wingspans of up to 6 feet or more, if you see a large white bird that’s a bit smaller than a great blue heron, chances are it’s a great egret.

But size isn’t the only distinguishing feature. One of the easiest ways to tell them apart is by looking at their legs. Great egrets have black legs, whereas white-phase great blue herons have much lighter legs, often a pale yellow color. So, if you see a large white bird with black legs, it’s definitely a great egret.

Now, let’s move on to their appearance. While both birds are predominantly white, there are some subtle differences in their plumage. Great egrets have slightly shaggier feathers on their breast compared to herons. Their feathers have a more delicate appearance, almost like fine lace, while herons have a more solid and robust feathering pattern.

Another feature to look out for is their beaks. Herons generally have slightly heavier beaks compared to great egrets. These beaks are designed for capturing and eating fish, frogs, and other small aquatic creatures, so they need to be strong and sturdy. Great egrets, on the other hand, have a slightly more slender and pointed beak, which is still effective for catching prey but not as robust as that of a heron.

In terms of behavior, both birds are skilled hunters and can often be found in similar habitats, such as marshes, swamps, and wetlands. They both use their long legs to wade through the water and patiently wait for their prey to come within striking distance. They also have similar feeding habits, primarily feeding on small fish and amphibians.

So, to sum it up, the main differences between a great white heron and a great egret are the color of their legs, the slightly shaggier feathers on the breast of the egret, the slightly heavier beak of the heron, and the overall size. Paying attention to these characteristics should help you differentiate between the two birds when you encounter them in the wild.