White Egrets and Herons

Identification Keys and Tips

South Dakota Birds and Birding

NOTE: Identification tips on this page are primarily for mature birds in breeding plumage (for the three egret species), and for the juvenile Little Blue Heron.  Note there are also white morphs of the Reddish Egret and the Great Blue Heron.  However, the Reddish Egret is not found in South Dakota, and the white morph of the Great Blue Heron is generally restricted to Florida. Also note: Photos below are not to scale, and should not be used to directly compare size between species.  Do note the significant size differences between some species, however.
Great Egret   Snowy Egret
Ardea alba   Egretta thula

Great Egret - Ardea Alba

 

Snowy Egret - Egretta thula

Height: 36-40 inches   Height: 24 inches
Wingspan: 50 inches Wingspan: 40 inches
Legs: Black (Juveniles will all dark legs as well) Legs: Black with sharply contrasting yellow feet.  Juveniles have generally yellowish-green legs, with yellow feet.
Bill: Long, thin yellow bill Bill: Black bill. Juveniles have yellowish-green bill, often with dark tip. 
Lores: During breeding season, lores turn lime green (photo above).  In other seasons, they are primarily a dirty yellow. Lores: Yellow lores.  Juveniles have yellowish-green lores.
Other identification keys: Long, lacy feathers/plumes on back in breeding plumage (some visible in photo above). Other identification keys: Has long, lacy plumages on its back and neck in breeding plumage.
South Dakota Status: Breeds in parts of eastern South Dakota, and is a common migrant.  Generally rare in the western part of the state. South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrants in the east, but locally common breeders in some locations.  Very rare in western part of state
   
Cattle Egret Little Blue Heron (juvenile)
Bubulcus ibis Egretta caerulea

Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis

Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea

Height: 20 inches Height: 24 inches
Wingspan: 36 inches Wingspan: 40 inches
Legs: Yellow to pinkish in breeding season, dark legs for non-breeding birds and juveniles. Legs: Dull greenish legs (juveniles and adults)
Bill: Short orange or yellow bill Bill: Pale gray or greenish bill and lores on a juvenile bird with darker tip, bluish bill with darker tip on mature bird.
Other identification keys: Pale orange patches and crest on breeding plumage bird (as in photo above).  Also shorter legs and thicker neck than other birds on this page. Other identification keys: Subtle darker wingtips on juvenile (examine photo above).  First spring bird has mottled gray interspersed with white on body.  NOTE: View adult plumage bird in photos below.
South Dakota Status:  Fairly common breeder in the northeastern part of the state, uncommon elsewhere in the east, uncommon to rare in the west. South Dakota Status: rare migrant and summer resident in the eastern part of the state.

 

Great Egret

 

Snowy Egret

Additional Photos Additional Photos
Great Egret - Ardea alba Great Egret - Ardea alba Great Egret - Ardea alba   Snowy Egret - Egretta thula Snowy Egret - Egretta thula Snowy Egret - Egretta thula
Great Egret - Ardea alba Great Egret - Ardea alba Great Egret - Ardea alba   Snowy Egret - Egretta thula Snowy Egret - Egretta thula  
Great Egret - Ardea alba Great Egret - Ardea alba Great Egret - Ardea alba        

Cattle Egret

 

Little Blue Heron

Additional Photos   Additional Photos
Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis     Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea  

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