Egret Vs Heron: The Difference Between These White Birds Explained!

Oluwatosin Michael
Feb 29, 2024 By Oluwatosin Michael
Originally Published on Nov 04, 2021
The grey heron (Ardea cinerea) standing and fishing in the water
Age: 3-18
Read time: 10.2 Min

Wetlands, swamps, coasts, and places near rivers, ponds, and lakes are preferred habitats for these North American birds.

Egret and Heron are both long-legged birds. They belong to the same family of Ardeidae and are almost identical when it comes to looks, but there are a few very different traits by which they can be distinguished.

The primary causes of reducing the number of herons in the wild include pollution of freshwater with heavy metals and pesticides, as well as habitat loss. Heron populations across the world are now steady, and they are listed as critically endangered.

Most species in the heron family have many similarities when it comes to legs, neck, and bumps. These factors keep adapting to their hunting of fish, amphibians, snakes, and other deep-water marshes. The prey is generally caught tightly and then killed by striking it on the ground, or any other hard surface. They clean their food before swallowing head-first.

Read on further to get to know more about Egrets and Herons! Afterward, do read Heron facts and hornet vs yellow jacket.

What does a heron look like vs an egret?

Here's the difference between the appearance of a Heron and an Egret.

A heron is a long-necked bird with thin and long legs. They live in freshwater and on the coast. They belong to the Ardeidae family and 64 other species known as egrets and bitterns. These birds do not swim. The necks of these birds can bend in an S-shape, this is because they have 20-21 vertebrates in their neck. Their long neck can flex and stretch during flight. Herons are a large bird family with a worldwide distribution. They are found in all countries except Antarctica. There are almost 64 species of heron identified to date. A little blue heron does not really settle at one specific location, and because of this, they migrate slowly. They usually migrate after breeding. A little blue heron relocates in search of new food and reduces the pressure on nearby areas where they used to be. They travel a lot at night.

The word Egret was derived from the French word 'aigrette'. Yellow-crowned night Egrets and black-crowned night egrets are actually types of Heron. They have white and gray feathers. During the breeding season, they cultivate beautiful and long feathers that are usually white. These long and fibrous feathers known as plumes are found at the back of an Egret. Egrets prefer areas such as streams, lakes, tropical forests, and other wetlands. They prefer to eat small fish, land animals, reptiles, and mammals. They build a nest in an unclean way, either in the trees or in the trees below. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a few species of egret were endangered in the wild because of the relentless pursuit of their plums for making hats and high-quality clothing in Europe and the US.

Are herons and egrets related?

As mentioned earlier, both Egrets and Herons belong to the same family of species and share many similarities.

Egrets are not a separate group from bitterns, who belong to a different genus within the family. The Ardeidae family includes herons and egrets, both of which have long legs. Snowy Egret is a type of heron. Though both these birds look very similar to each other they can be distinguished under a few factors such as biological name, genera, height, legs, and bills. In the family Ardeidae and egretta, 64 different species have been identified and known. These species are termed bitterns or egrets instead of herons because of the differences in their appearance. The bitterns are under a different type within the family, but white egrets are not a different group. The classification of herons and egrets is unclear, and there are differing views on the second category of Ardea and Egretta and what species should be classified into what species.

Image of little egret (Egretta garzetta) looking for food

Egrets and herons are carnivorous birds and are remarkably opportunistic. They trap their prey by slowing down or standing on their yellow feet for long periods, waiting for the animal to slip between their long necks and sharp yellow bills. The final blow is done with a quick pull of their sharp bills, and the victim is swallowed whole.

A black-crowned night Egret is a bird that feeds on a huge variety of small creatures, even though most of its food is fish and aquatic animals. If yellow-crowned night egrets come across a potential food, they hold it in their neck and if they think they can swallow it in their mouth, they try to eat it. Fish, insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, tiny birds, and small mammals are among the many preys that egrets go for. They will also consume grasshoppers and rodents. Depending on where they thrive, different species consume different kinds of prey, although the majority eat practically everything.

Some white herons have been known to use bait to hunt and trap their prey. A little blue heron can use existing items, or these birds of North America can actively add items to the water to attract different fish. Alternatively, great blue herons in the Amazon have been observed using seeds, insects, flowers, and leaves to catch fish in their range. Although well-known for catching fish, rats and squirrels make up most of their diet apart from insects and other small creatures.

Sometimes one can easily get confused between egrets and great white herons as they look very similar to each other. The white heron is actually a type of great blue heron. The reason why these birds of North America are called white herons is that they develop milky white-colored long and furry feathers (plumes) during the breeding season. A black-crowned night egret has black legs while the white heron is a bird that is long-legged with yellow feet. The white herons also have lightweight bills and 'thick' feathers on their chest. Great blue herons can be found in North America and the coast of Florida and are really rare. This type is on the verge of being termed endangered as only a small number of white herons are surviving.

What are the key identifiable differences between a heron and an egret?

Falling under the same family of species, little blue herons and snowy egrets look very similar to each other. Some might also mistake them for a Crane. However, their bird group is separate. Knowing the wildlife habitat is important in determining what bird you have seen.

Snowy Egret usually has a very dark black or dark yellow beak, designed for fishing. During breeding, the Great Egret develops green spots around its eyes. When compared to egrets, night herons have beaks that are remarkably similar, except that they are bigger and orange in color. They usually have fringes on their faces.  A heron has broad wings, and they are much larger than their bodies. Great egrets have very small wings, although they are still around and somewhat wide.

Night herons are usually found in blue and gray colors, although some species are white, and their legs and mouth are often pale. Great egrets are usually white, with dark black legs, and sometimes black or yellow bills with a long neck. Egrets develop long feathers on their backs during the breeding season. A great blue heron also has these plumes on its head, face, and chest all year round, which gives them a furry appearance. Night herons are taller than great egrets, especially when they stretch their necks. A great blue heron is also quite heavier when compared to egrets. Larger varieties of heron reach about twice the weight of the largest Egrets with a longer neck. A great blue heron usually has orange-yellow feet, while egrets usually have strong black legs and yellow feet.

The symbol of great blue herons or egrets is important because it means peace and tranquility to humans. It also shows determination because we will definitely be facing many challenges and problems in the journey of life, but we must not give up. A Snowy Egret comes to us with a message of meditation which means we are where we need to be right now at this moment. It is said that it is good to contemplate about ourselves when a great egret crosses our path. Sometimes that is all we need to do when we are in the midst of a crisis or a difficult decision.

The Snowy Egret is part of many cultural metaphors and has appeared in many works of art. A first glance may tell anyone that this bird is a weak and fragile creature. They have no special physical attributes that will allow them to fight or flee from enemies, and yet they thrived in many places. Greeks and Africans believed that the great egret has a divine connection and direct relationship with God. It is said that a Snowy Egret is the messenger of the Greek goddess of wisdom - Athena. People say that God the goddess uses the white egret to watch over someone, especially sailors. Watching them fly away serves as an inspiration for myths and legends throughout the ancient world.

Seeing a great egret in your dreams reveals a journey to greater self-awareness as the lessons of peace and meditation are centered. When a great egret flies away from you, you look for an opportunity under your nose. Take a moment and re-examine what you may have missed. Seeing a great egret standing on the water's edge in your dream means you have to keep a balance in the way you handle things right now. Avoid taking sides. The dream may also indicate a time when you are exploring or treating emotions.

Do egrets mate for life?

Large great egrets meet during the breeding once and stay with their partner until the end of the season.

Usually, males give more gestures to attract females. After that, these birds of North America chose a field. Breeding season begins in mid-April when the bird builds the nest. This bird forms nests, near water, and stays in groups called colonies, which may include other species of white heron or egrets. They try to build the nest as high as possible. Large nests of egrets are a little unstable, made of stems, sticks, and twigs. Large egrets raise many kids a year. The female lays eggs, after which both parents participate in breeding for 23-24 days. A typical great egret pouch contains 3-4 eggs. After three weeks, the chicks begin to climb into the nest.  Little egrets are violent with each other in the nest, and their strong siblings often kill their weak relatives so that not all survivors can commit to two to three weeks. Then, after another 3-4 weeks, they fly away. By the time these birds of North America are two years old, great egrets are able to reproduce.

Hats are a very practical accessory. They are used to keep their head warm, faces shaded, and protect their hair, but there was nothing practical about women's hats in the 19th century. The large hats were decorated with all sorts of novelty, especially long and fuzzy bird feathers. The more feathers, the better the hat. These types of feathers are known as plumes. Great egrets attract their partner using their breeding plumage during the breeding season. Women from the '90s used the plumage for the same reason.

Many egrets were killed by plumage hunters who supplied plumes for the sole purpose of fashion. Their population of the egret plunged by almost 95%. Luckily, things changed over a period of time and now egrets, herons, and other migratory birds are protected under federal law. Shooting, trapping, or even harming such a bird in any way is considered illegal now. Due to legal protection, great egrets and the great blue heron stay in a much safer environment now and their numbers have increased gradually.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Egret Vs Heron: The Difference Between These White Birds Explained! then why not take a look at Why Do Moles Grow Hair? Should You Be Concerned? Or Respiration Explained: Why Do We Breathe And Why Is It Important?

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Written by Oluwatosin Michael

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

Oluwatosin Michael picture

Oluwatosin MichaelBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

With a Bachelor's in Microbiology from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oluwatosin has honed his skills as an SEO content writer, editor, and growth manager. He has written articles, conducted extensive research, and optimized content for search engines. His expertise extends to leading link-building efforts and revising onboarding strategies. 

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