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Identify egrets and herons by their colorful bills

Who says you need to see golden slippers to know you’re looking at a Snowy Egret? You can identify it by its bill. And you can do the same for other egret species, and herons too, as these photos show. We found them in our U.S. and Canada Gallery.

Single-color bills

Snowy Egret by Tony Britton.
Great Egret at Piute Ponds, Edwards Air Force Base, California, July 27, 2014, by Brent Bremer.
Cattle Egret at Cameron Prairie NWR, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, by Jeff Cole.

Even when you’re looking at all-white egrets, color can still be a good field mark, as these photos show. Look at the bills: On Snowy Egret (top), it’s always mostly black. On Great Egret (center), it’s always yellow. On Cattle Egret (bottom), it’s red-orange (although it turns yellow when the bird is not breeding). The shapes of the bills are different, too — long and slender on Snowy Egret, broad and dagger-like on Great Egret, and short on Cattle Egret.

See more photos of Snowy Egret.

See photos of Great Egret.

View Cattle Egret.

Two-tone bills

Little Blue Heron at J. N. “Ding” Darling NWR, Florida, April 2014, by Teri Franzen.
Reddish Egret near St. Petersburg, Florida, by Sandy Scott.

The dark purple plumage of Little Blue Heron and the rufous feathers of Reddish Egret are usually enough to separate the species, but never miss a chance to look closely at the bills. The photos above show birds in breeding plumage. On Little Blue Heron (above), the bill is blue at the base and black at the tip, while on Reddish Egret (below), the bill is mostly pink but has a dark tip. (You can see the colors even on the white morph, as this photo by Georgia Wilson shows.) The two-toned bill is especially useful when you’re viewing immature Little Blues, which are all white, or nearly so, and look a whole lot like juvenile Snowy Egrets. (The egrets’ bills are always black.)

See more photos of Little Blue Heron.

See more photos of Reddish Egret.

Compare photos of Purple Finch and House Finch.

View our Photos of the Week.


Originally Published

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